Anyone who has worked with computers is probably familiar with malicious software programs known as worms, which not only infect the host computer, but also self-replicate to attack others. But in 2014, a group of international scientists took the "infection" idea a step further -- and more literally. In conjunction with a project known as OpenWorm, researchers uploaded a software simulation of all of a roundworm's neural connections into a robot made of Legos. To everyone's amazement, the robot moved -- despite never being programmed to do so. In other words, the brain of the roundworm -- a nematode known as Caenorhabditis elegans -- began to control the robot in the same way it would have controlled its worm body.
According to one report, the robot responded to exterior stimuli the same way a worm would have. "Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion," the report said. "Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward." The achievement is expected to be only the first step in a longer process to completely replicate the worm as a virtual entity.
The dirt on nematodes:
- Although most nematodes are parasitic, Caenorhabditis elegans is not; it feeds on microbes.
- Nematodes are commonly used in scientific studies because their neurons, muscles, gut, and other tissues are very similar to a human's.
- Nematodes are one of the world's most diverse creatures, with some estimates suggesting there might be approximately 500,000 species.