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Do the (artificial) worm: Simulated organism makes first wriggles

worms
The simulated worm makes its first moves in this simulated environment.

Researchers attempting to recreate a tiny worm in software have reached a milestone: Their artificial critter can now wriggle its body to move just like the real thing. It's a major step towards simulating the whole organism — which is incredibly difficult, even for such a simple creature.

Of course, the OpenWorm project's C. elegans (a nematode, or flatworm) is far from the only simulated animal out there. In games and movies there have been highly realistic CG creatures — who can forget the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park" or the lush fauna of "Avatar"?

But this is simulation on a whole other level. Instead of simply making a realistic-looking model of the creature and animating it, the OpenWorm project is actually simulating every single one of the 1,000 or so cells that make up a C. elegans. That includes things like pumps moving bio-molecules around and electric signals that tell those cells what to do — and yes, the brain has to be simulated, too!

The team's latest achievement is realistic movement; that means making sure every muscle cell acts the way it should, from how it contracts to how it syncs up nearby other cells. The result, as you can see below, looks very much like a worm wriggling, albeit in slow motion:

The slowness is because the two-minute video shows movement that would normally take place over 0.35 seconds. An earlier video shows slightly faster wriggling, but the team had to tweak a few settings to make the action resemble real worms' movements more closely.

Next up: hooking up the cells so that they're actually communicating with each other via electrical signals — and eventually the team will connect the network of muscle cells with the 302-neuron artificial brain. More information about OpenWorm, the simulation process, and perhaps how you can help can be found at the project's site.

via New World Notes

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.