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Modeling C. elegans: The Open Worm Project

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Mikail Rubinov.

In hoping to understand how complex neural systems work, we should start with a predictive model that is small and build up. Unfortunately, neuroscience has few predictive models for how complex nervous systems work. The aim of the Open Worm Project is to start by building a full simulation of a small biological system with a reasonable number of parts, while focusing on capturing as much of the rich detail of that biological system as possible.

Simulating a single cell that does not move (such as a yeast cell) is unlikely to provide us with enough of a foundation to build up to more complex organisms by itself. In the field of neuroscience, one of the simplest organisms that is studied is the C. elegans. It has a very consistent lifecycle and is comparatively well understood. The adult male having only 1031 somatic cells, with which it solves basic problems of feeding, mate-finding, predator and toxin avoidance.

In building the Open Worm model of C. elegans, each cell is represented individually, within a spatial model that includes external physical forces and electro-mechanical interactions. It is hoped that the constraints provided by requiring a model to provide biologically-realistic mechanical and electrical behaviour may lead to a more fundamental understanding of C. elegans physiology. Furthermore, it is hoped that the technology developed by the project will be applicable to more complex problems in future.

This talk is part of the Brain Mapping Unit Networks Meeting and the Cambridge Connectome Consortium series.

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