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Building a Digital Life Form: Openworm, Open Source

A 3D rendering of the C. elegans nervous system.

The OpenWorm project is using data from a decade of experiments on the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode worm to create a computer model of the worm, in the hope that it will be detailed enough to get the virtual worm to behave like a real one.


The OpenWorm Project is working to create the first computer model of the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode worm. One of the most widely studied creatures, the worm is considered by scientists to be a model organism for study because of its neural development.

The open source project is using data from experiments over the past decade, and hopes that it will be detailed enough to get the virtual worm to behave like a real-world worm. Incorporating the available data could lead to complex behaviors, such as spontaneously feeding, finding mates, and avoiding predators. The detailed simulation will model each of the worm's cells.

"The challenge of simulating even a tiny worm is immense," according to the project's website. "It requires a lot of parallel activities."

Thus far the project has yielded an early demo that shows five muscle segments of the worm's body moving in water. "People will need to wait some months, though, before being able to download the virtual creature," says a development team member. He estimates it would take three to five more months before simulations are debugged and integrated "to the point where the average curious developer could build and run the project and see the muscular shell of a worm swimming around."

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