Building a Digital Lifeform Through an Open Source Project
Stephen Larson, panelist for our October 22nd ScienceOnline event, describes the OpenWorm project, a fascinating initiative that demonstrates the power of researchers working together online.
With well funded efforts like DARPA’s synapse project and the Blue Brain project it seems like it would be difficult. But that’s what the passionate group behind the OpenWorm project believe and have been making it a reality for the past year. Some basic facts about the project:
- The complexity of understanding the human brain makes it crucial to start with very simple organisms and to understand those simple organisms using computer models.
- OpenWorm is building a computational platform that reverse engineers a microorganism with one thousand cells — the most well studied microorganism in biology.
- The platform is being built transparently online in open source code repositories, such as GitHub
- The group doesn’t work under the same roof — the project is the distributed volunteer effort of individuals in Russia, U.K, Ireland, and the United States.
The project has already produced a “Worm Browser” that allows anyone to see the anatomy of the organism that is being simulated. The project has also made great progress in marshalling the facts that are known about this organism into a “connectome” that can be simulated. Finally, the project recently published a paper that outlines its previous work and points directions to the future.
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