There are plenty of things about the world of biology that remain a mystery to us, but if you’re looking for a creature that researchers understand very well, you could do worse than Caenorhabditis elegans. A microscopic worm that is one of the simplest lifeforms on the planet, C. elegans is also one of the most thoroughly studied. While researchers have a ton of data, a team of scientists is spearheading a project they hope can offer an unprecedented look into the inner workings of this little worm — they want to build a full, working, digital model of the creature they can run research simulations on, and they want your help to do it.
So far, scientists are very good at taking C. elegans apart. Since the roundworm only has about 1,000 cells, that may seem like no huge feat. But considering the things C. elegans is able to accomplish with those 1,000 cells — like eating and dodging predators — it’s not nothing. One of the big lingering questions about C. elegans, in fact, is just how it does so much — relatively speaking — with so little.
The real test of understanding something, though, is being able to put one together. While assembling a living C. elegans in the flesh is still a pipe dream, the scientists behind Open Worm think that enough data exists on the simple nematode that constructing a digital model of one should be doable. They just need some help on the heavy lifting, and that’s where you could come in.
By combining existing simulations of C. elegans and updating them with information from researchers studying the worm around the world, Open Worm hopes to build a fully predictive model of the worm. That model could be used to make predictions about how the creature will react to various scenarios or substances, accelerating the speed at which research gets done and cutting costs by letting researchers identify promising avenues of research — and dead ends — before they start tests in live animals.
If you’re a coder, a scientist, a writer, artist, or philanthropist, the project will find a place to put you to work. You can learn more about the both C. elegans and Open Worm at the project’s website. And for a quick introduction to all things Open Worm, check out the video below
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- We can steer these worms using laser mind-control
- And like pretty much every animal nowadays, they’ve inspired a robot design
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