Researchers simulate a worm's internal muscle sensations with code

Illustration for article titled Researchers simulate a worm's internal muscle sensations with code

Developers working on the OpenWorm Project, an effort to create a virtual nematode worm in a computer, have attained an important milestone after successfully creating a software engine that drives worm body motion.


OpenWorm is one of the more fascinating artificial life initiatives. By using the open source channel, this team is trying, among other things, to crack the long term memory code of the C. elegans nematode worm, an animal with just 302 neurons and roughly 6,000 synapses. But if they're going to create a completely functional nematode worm, they'll also have to get it to move and respond to it's environment — even if it is virtual.

Illustration for article titled Researchers simulate a worm's internal muscle sensations with code

In the latest breakthrough, the developers created a simulated worm body with muscle segments that resemble an actual C. elegans. Speaking to New World Notes, OpenWorm team member John Hurliman said, "Each muscle segment can receive a contraction signal, and although the current setup just has a hardcoded algorithm driving the muscles, its movement closely resembles published literature on how C. Elegans swims."

Video: Swimming locomotion simulation of a prototype of C.elegans.

Essentially, the developers artificially recreated internal muscle sensation — a building block for worm locomotion — using algorithms alone. And to create an environment for the virtual worm to swim in, they used a smooth particle hydrodynamics simulator.


To be fair, they computed one-third of a second of movement, which took 72 hours to compute. Ideally, they'd like to extend this length of time and attach a synthetic 302-neuron brain to it.

"Our simulation doesn't look like the real worm yet as this was just a first test of the engine driving worm body motion, but our goal is to reproduce real world behaviour and validate it against experimental recordings," noted team member Giovanni Idili.


They're also hoping to hook it all up in Geppetto, which would allow them to run the simulation and let people play and interact with the worm from their browsers.

Read more about this breakthrough at New World Notes and OpenWorm.

Top image: Caltech.



Will Holz

I've had this site linked for ages, and I go back there every now and then to remind myself of two things.

1) How amazing even one tiny little creature is.
2) How embarrassingly far we have to go before we begin to catch up with biology.