Evolution and the Swarm

21 March 2013 / By Scott

I’m currently watching my wife play the new Starcraft II expansion – ‘Heart of the Swarm’, featuring some evolutionary exploits with the dreaded ‘Zerg’. (*Spoiler alert! If you haven’t played the expansion yet, go listen to my music instead…)

The Zerg in general have always been associated with the idea of ‘evolution’, but I’d prefer to call it genetic engineering. Your choices to go add wings to your zerglings, or make them run faster is really more about you manipulating the genetic code of your zerglings – maybe adding some new stuff in – to add body parts or abilities.

Yagdra – a primal zerg.

However, this ain’t evolution, for evolution is not about choice. Birds didn’t evolve wings to fly because one day they thought it would be a cool idea. They chose because those individuals with wings (or precursors to wings) survived better in their environment, and were ‘selected for’, and were more likely to pass on their ‘wing’ genes to their kids. Those that lacked the features were more likely to die. Hence, wings become the norm.

So adding wings to your zerglings is a conscious choice – not evolution.

But – at a certain point in the storyline, our friendly Queen of Blades ‘Kerrigan’ and her Zerg swarm are directed to the home planet of the Zerg, inhabited by an ancient race of ‘Primal Zerg’, said to be immortal, yet constantly ‘evolving’ to become better hunters – adding appendages/abilities/whatever they need to kill faster and more efficiently.

So how about these primal zerg? They are constantly changing themselves (perhaps without choice?) to become better hunters – but they do it quickly, and in their own lifetime. I guess in a way this is like evolution – the pressure to become better hunters causes them to respond by changing themselves. But it’s definitely a different concept to how we know evolution – which is SLOOOOOOW and often takes millions of years to occur.

For them to be ‘evolving’ the way they do, the primal zerg would have to be in a constant state of mutation – their genetic code constantly jumbling and shifting to make them better at their schtick. That means they must have a MEGA system in place for DNA repair, as well as ways of preventing crazy tumours and cancerous growths from forming (they’d be great for cancer research!).

So… in short – conventional zerg = genetic engineering. Primal zerg = evolution, but not as we know it!

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