A project to create a complete computer simulation of a nematode called Caenorhabditis elegans has taken a small step forward, releasing a model showing the operation of a group of the worm's muscles.
The OpenWorm project has been working on its virtual nematode since December 2011, with the ambitious aim of modelling the entire organism in software. C. elegans is the organism of choice for the project, because it's also closely studied in biology labs.
The latest result from the project is a simulation of five muscle groups moving in water.
Its popularity for a wide variety of animal developmental research projects, all the way up to neural development, stems from the simplicity both of its nervous system and its genetic makeup. That simplicity also makes the nematode more accessible to being computer-simulated than complex creatures.
For example, as Phys.org reports, even modelling C. Elegans 302 neurons is a much bigger challenge than might seem at first glance, since turning that into a model means building descriptions of the synaptic junctions and the ion channels for each cell, according to the project's Website.
The researchers say their aim is to gather all of the available data about the creature into the software models, in the hope that if it becomes sufficiently complex, it might begin exhibiting complex behaviour such as feeding.
The key components of the project are a nervous system modeller called NeuroML, a simulation engine called Geppetto, a fluid mechanics simulator, and an optimisation engine. There's also a browser of the worm that lets visitors to the site take a cell-by-cell look at the C. Elegans.