The first digital animal will be open source nematode worm funded by kickstarter

OpenWorm is an open source project dedicated to creating a virtual C. elegans nematode in a computer.

The bot’s artificial brain has the same number of cells as a real nematode brain, and they are connected up in exactly the same way. But instead of a fluid tubular body animated by 95 muscles, WormBot has a plastic body and two wheels. It does not eat, defecate, reproduce or die. That will be left to its future sibling, WormSim, which will be a cell-for-cell digital copy of the worm, living inside a computer.

A nematode has 959 cells each of which has also been mapped. Its network of 302 neurons connect via 6393 synapses – its connectome – and link to the worm’s 95 muscles at 1410 junctions.

Independent researcher Tim Busbice launched the OpenWorm project on Kickstarter. He has already created WormSim’s brain and musculature, linked them up, and is busy dropping it into virtual water to start fine-tuning its first strokes – a nematode worm swims by undulating its 1-millimetre-long body. Sensory organs will come next. The worm should be ready for testing by next year. For an investment of $49, Kickstarter backers will get their own WormSim to play with on their computers

Busbice has run rudimentary tests with his model. Previously, several teams of biologists have tweaked the brain of a real C. elegans by cutting specific neurons to see how this would change its behaviour. Busbice says he has done identical tests in his neural network, and watched his robot’s behaviour change in the same way as the live ones did.

Future more advanced versions of Wormsim could have adaptive, learning capability.

SOURCE – Openworm, New Scientist

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