A team at Harvard University has recently announced that they have developed a methodology to control the very minds of worms by firing lasers at individual neurons. According to Scientific American, by engineering the worms to be light sensitive, scientists were able to stimulate specific parts of the worms’ nervous system through their transparent bodies with observable results. For instance, they can make the worm stop, change direction, and even lay eggs.
The point of all this is not to have a remote control worm. You’ll have to put your army of worm slaves on hold. Instead, scientists are hoping to gain a more nuanced understanding of how these cells operate as a network to oversee the functions of worm. Even though this particular worm (Caenorhabditis elegans) has been exhaustively studied, and had each individual cell classified — 1,031 cells, 302 neurons with 5,000 connections — how that all works together is not entirely understood.
The research may also lead to such complete knowledge of the worm’s nervous system that it could be accurately modeled electronically. Scientific American quotes Andrew Leifer, a graduate student at Harvard, thusly:
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a computational model of the entire nervous system,” he says. In a way, that would be like “uploading a mind,” though a rudimentary one.
That’s right, kids. We went from worm mind control to mathematically generated worms in three paragraphs. Science is amazing.
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