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Posted by on Oct 6, 2012 in Science |

The enormous importance of simulating a tiny worm

The enormous importance of simulating a tiny worm

Where are we in the brain attempts as in the case of Blue Brain? What is the interest that can be represented as a microscopic worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans)? Does it help the vaunted connectome ? Fortunately a small but important project we can help: OpenWorm

I acknowledge that I have become very heavy with worm happy . And yet, I remain convinced that is paramount. We want to understand the human brain. We want to simulate it on the computer. We spend astronomical figures to try. The connectome human map of all neural connections in the human nervous system, work attracts a large number of researchers. And a lot of money.

But the question is very simple. How can we understand and where appropriate simulate highly complex structure as the human brain if we are not able to do it with a very simple as the nervous system of C. elegans?

The reduccionismmo in science is very useful. Also in neuroscience. Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley received the Nobel Prize for finding out how the nerve signal that spreads through the neuron, called the action potential. And what they found in the squid. More specifically in the squid giant axon is seen with the naked eye and is easy to handle. Eric Kandel received the Nobel Prize for his studies of memory made in a sea slug, Aplysia . Thanks to these two animals know a lot of humans.

Create models is essential in science. From a simple math paper help explain the world. Also to make predictions, experimenting, finding mistakes … But there are very few neuroscience. And the reality, even the worm is very complex. Without a model we are lost.

Attempts simulation in have started with the most complex systems of the human brain! It’s like the first draft was a skyscraper architect or engineer of a space station. Blue Brain and Cognitive Computing IBM are two of the most famous. Both hope to achieve within a decade … if computers are then able to.

A little comparison. The human brain has 85 billion neurons. C. elegans has 302. know its connectome, ie the connection rede these represent about 7,000 neurons synapse (the human brain has 450 billion). We know your genome . Nevertheless we do not know how. The model, simulation, are essential.

OpenWorm is a modest project based on open standards proposed as simple and complex as simulating C. elegans. The worm is simple but the project is complex. Not only simulates neurons, but the nearly 95 thousand cells including muscle cells. Not only that. Intended to simulate the environment, namely, food, water or heat.

Help us build the first artificial life form

This is an open project in which you can participate . Use open standards like OpenCL, Python … The description of the state of the art project and roadmap are published. To help, is available in 3D reconstruction .

The sw that simulates the behavior of neurons is another standard called NeuroML . All neurons are described to work with this simulator.

The complete simulation is performed today on a GPU cluster of about 5 Tflops Amazon, equivalent to about 50 home computers.

Start small is usually a good idea. The worm will lead to humans. With time and work.

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