About this project
UPDATE #5: Why is a simulation of a worm so important?
What is OpenWorm?
OpenWorm is an open science project aimed at building the first digital organism, a microscopic worm called C. elegans. With this KickStarter we want you to join us in contributing to the creation of the first digital organism and we want to give you your own WormSim to play with on your web browser. Your WormSim will improve over time and will get smarter as our model gets better and closer to the real one.
We are also creating the OpenWorm Academy to teach you all about how this tiny worm works and what goes in to creating a digital organism in an easy to understand online course.
What can I do with my WormSim?
Pledge at the level of worm charmer or more to get your own WormSim, which will give you a window into the latest developments of the model that you can easily play with. While WormSim is not a complete digital worm yet, what we have done so far is something you will find unique and intriguing.
- Explore your WormSim with beautifully rendered visualizations
- Rotate and zoom in 3D to examine your WormSim from multiple angles
- Go beyond the static view to observe the motion patterns of your WormSim and the muscle cells activity that make it up
- Click through a simple and intuitive list of the muscle cells that make up the organism's motion
- Each cell lights up and reveals its secrets of activity, showing you how behavior is created by the motion of muscle cells.
Note: All source code produced by this campaign will always be publicly available under open source license. However building a WormSim from source is a complex operation that requires advanced engineering skills. The WormSims created and brought to you by this campaign will run on a rather advanced cloud infrastructure and will be easily available in your browser without requiring any programming skills.
Why does it matter?
Science still does not understand the human brain to the level needed to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Believe it or not, science doesn’t even fully understand the brain of a simple worm! If we cannot build a computer model of a worm, the most studied organism in all of biology, we don’t stand a chance to understand something as complex as the human brain.
OpenWorm gives the world front row access to the cutting edge of digital biology. Our open and international community is hard at work making a computer model of one of biology's most important animals accessible to anyone on their own computer.
Because we believe brain research must accelerate, we are taking matters into our own hands. We must crawl before we can walk!
Accessible Open Science
Instead of a science project that happens in an inaccessible lab behind closed doors, OpenWorm is an open science project.
By taking part in this Kickstarter you could be one of the first owners of a WormSim, the first ever improving digital organism. At the same time you are also becoming part of our open scientific community.
The pledged amount and any overshoots of our goal will be spent towards creating a better model of the worm, by funding more research, scientists and engineers. As we improve our model and the understanding of this organism, your WormSim will become better and smarter, exhibiting new behaviours. Have a look at the timeline below to see where more and more funds will lead us.
You can start playing with your WormSim in four easy steps!
Step 1) Click the link, put in your access code
Step 2) Name your own WormSim
Step 3) Watch your WormSim as it starts crawling!
Step 4) Rotate the camera, explore its cells!
You'll benefit from all the work that has gone on behind-the-scenes: a tremendous amount of open access research and three years of effort to build a model of the worm within the OpenWorm project. Here's a recent video of the simulation at work:
Your browser will receive a streamed version of the latest simulation as if you were watching a movie on Netflix, but you'll also be able to interact with it exploring the simulation dynamically in 3D and looking at the activity of muscle cells.
Who’s it for?
- Curious minds
An extra bonus - an online course to teach you about the exciting field of digital biology giving you a behind-the-scenes look at OpenWorm!
- Get an overview of the biology, math, computer science, and programming behind OpenWorm
- Straightforward enough for non-experts to understand
- Advanced students will have optional programming workshops
Find the worm that suits you best!
Custom limited edition art by neuro-artist Matteo Farinella
Back the campaign at the level of Worm Activist, Worm Fanatic or Worm Professor and above and we'll throw in your choice of one of five limited edition OpenWorm themed prints by the brilliant Matteo Farinella, the artist and neuroscientist behind the magnificent NeuroComic.
Support simulations for kids
Pledge $499 as a Worm Professor and in addition to your rewards, we'll donate a full simulation to a kid of your choosing (or in a lottery we'll hold). If you'd like to donate access for a whole classroom, be a Worm Wizard at $2499. You can even choose the classroom!
Proudly open source
Our open science community is built on the foundations of open source principles. All our code is released via MIT license. However, only our backers will have the ease and convenience of having it all put together for you in a web application with 99% uptime and backed by the best cloud computing technologies.
Who are you people?
Our core team is currently composed of nine dedicated and talented individuals volunteering their time.
- Andrey Palyanov - Russia
- Balazs Szigeti - Hungary
- Giovanni Idili - Italy
- Jim Hokanson - United States
- Matteo Cantarelli - Italy
- Michael Currie - Canada
- Padraig Gleeson - Ireland
- Sergey Khayrulin - Russia
- Stephen Larson - United States
This core group of people with a mixed background of research and engineering came together over the years in a decentralized fashion through interactions over the internet. Believe it or not, it all started with a tweet and since then the core team has grown into a well oiled and distributed powerhouse of hardcore nerds who just won't quit.
Our 36 open source volunteer contributors come from eleven different countries around the world.
When we get together we work hard...
..but also play hard!
Adopt a neuron
Backers at the level of $249, Worm Legend, on up will be able to have their name or text of their choosing appear next to one of the 302 neurons on the screen of the simulation. This option is limited to 302 backers, because our worm's tiny brain is composed of only 302 neurons!
We wanted to make sure we could deliver on our promises before coming to KickStarter. That's why our KickStarter builds on three years of effort by an established team. We've done our homework. In the past we released an iOS app and a web app that are currently used by scientists and educators around the world for browsing the anatomy of the worm. We've also released several versions of Geppetto, our web-based simulation engine that is the vehicle for bringing the worm to the browser. The videos we've released show our progress with Sibernetic, the code base that runs the model today.
Our current development plan has been carefully crafted by the members of our team with years of professional software engineering experience. All we have to do is do the legwork, combining the model in the video with the Geppetto environment and setting it up online. Our initial tests give us the green light - all we need is you!
Give us the chance to help you experience the excitement of open science with OpenWorm.
Budget allocation breakdown
How are we going to spend the $$$ we raise you ask?
Here's a breakdown:
- 60% Engineering the worm in browser
- 15% OpenWorm community development & overheads
- 10% OpenWorm Academy
- 10% Amazon Payments & KickStarter fees
- 5% Costs of physical rewards
Shoulders of giants
We've benefitted from a wide range of open source tools and open data initiatives that have helped make this project possible.
The entire C. elegans experimental community that assembles at the yearly GSA C. elegans meeting is incredibly welcoming and supportive. We've received data and help from C. elegans biologists including Dr. Sreekanth Chalasani at the Salk Institute, Dr. Michael Francis at UMass Medical School, Dr. William Schafer at University of Cambridge and Dr. Andrew Leifer at Princeton University. We've been inspired and received help on worm simulations from the lab of Dr. Netta Cohen at Leeds University and her students. The original source for many of the 3D images of the worm's body is the Virtual Worm project at WormBase, specifically Dr. Christian Grove at CalTech.
Nice things other people have said
“I think what you are trying to do is a tremendous project. I think when you can do that, I think that only then can say that we understand how the nervous system works” - Dr. John White, Biologist and Inventor of the first “Connectome”
"Want to program a nervous system? Start off with a nematode." - Wired
“This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is cool. Beyond that, though, OpenWorm represents a novel, non-arbitrary way to quantify just how well we really do understand physiology. ” - ExtremeTech.com
“With this prototype, the project can make exponential strides that were otherwise inconceivable.“ - AshleyEllis.com
Risks and challenges
Our team includes many talented software engineers and scientists who have made it their life's passion both to create compelling software and to help unlock the mysteries of biology. The team has over 50 years combined experience writing rock solid software applications, meaning we understand how to manage technological risks. Moreover, we couldn't have built our community up to now by letting people down. OpenWorm has been built on trust and a passion for delivering and this KickStarter is doubly so. We'll make sure our backers are happy customers and that rewards are on time (or even early if we can).
Our delivery dates are comfortable estimates with room built in to spare. Our experience carrying the message on social media lets you know that we'll be keeping everyone in the loop about our progress after the campaign's over. We're not going anywhere. Among our members, we have experience shipping products overseas and we'll benefit from that to get you your swag on time as expected!
If something unexpected does happen, we'll take it full responsibility to avoid a negative experience for our supporters and make sure we're upfront and honest with the situation.
Any questions? We're available any time at email@example.comLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
We want to build a "WormSim", by taking the latest version of the OpenWorm simulation and making available via a web browser for everybody to play with. Going forward, any improvements to our model will be available through the web-based WormSim, just like it would be for a video game being updated and improved over time. See the “What can I do with it” section of the campaign for a detailed description of what you will be able to do with your WormSim.
Science still does not understand the human brain - made up of roughly 100 billion neurons - to the level needed to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Believe it or not, science doesn’t even fully understand the brain of a simple worm with only 302 neurons! A lot of human pathologies (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington's, Depression and more) have proto-equivalents in the nematode C. elegans, and the worms are used in the lab to find clues on how to cure these pathologies in humans. Building a model of the worm would greatly speed up experiments, reducing the need to work with live animals in the lab, and would thus accelerate research towards finding cures for these pathologies. If we cannot build a computer model of a worm, the most studied organism in all of biology, we don’t stand a chance to understand something as complex as the human brain. We need to start small, in other words... we must crawl before we can walk! So, because we believe biological and brain research must accelerate, we are taking matters into our own hands. The OpenWorm community is hard at work as we speak making such a computer model a reality.
The tiny worm C. elegans is by far the most understood and studied animal with a brain in all of biology. It was the first multi-cellular organism to have its genome mapped. It has only ~1000 cells and exactly 302 neurons, which have also been mapped as well as its “wiring diagram” making it also the first organism to have a complete connectome produced. This part gets particularly exciting for folks interested in artificial intelligence or computational neuroscience. Three different Nobel prizes have been awarded for work on this worm, and it is increasingly being used as a model for better understanding disease and health relevant to all organisms, including humans. When making a complex computer model, it is important to start where the data are the most complete!
OpenWorm is an independent grassroots experiment in open science and is not tied to any particular lab or any particular principal investigator. This has allowed us to keep our focus on being an open and collaborative community that a diverse community of contributors, from programmers to scientists to curious citizens can share in equally. As such, we feel that being funded by the community itself is the best way to preserve this kind of openness into the future.
It will be like a window on the “worm matrix”! As the WormSim gets more and more biologically detailed and exciting (think how cool it will be when we plug a brain into the worm) new versions will be rolled out to backers who pledged enough to obtain access to their own WormSim. Why a worm? The tiny worm C. elegans is by far the most understood and studied animal with a brain in all of biology! All of the 1000 cells of this organism have been mapped, including the tiny brain composed by 302 neurons and their network composed by give or take 5500 connections.
The C. elegans worm can avoid predators, seek food, and learn in the wild and in the lab! So yes, it’s no Lieutenant Commander Data yet, but we must crawl before we can walk... and it’s orders of magnitude more intelligent than your robot vacuum cleaner ;)
The short answer is that software development has not reached the point where anyone should consider our simulation to be “alive”. Our main goal is to understand how behaviour emerges out of the interactions of all the cells in the body of the worm, how a mere 302 cells brain can generate a very wide and interesting range of behaviours. This will help us greatly understand how our own brains work!
Why are you charging access to open source stuff? Doesn't this violate the whole point of open source?
All code developed from the kickstarter proceeds is open source and will remain open source. If you are a programmer you will have the same freedom to run the code that you do today. Backers will receive the exclusive convenience of going to a URL without installing anything and have a ready to play with version of the worm “as a service“ that doesn’t require any specific knowledge.
It is possible to work with our non-profit partner to get a tax deduction for large donations, but outside the context of the KickStarter campaign. Please contact us directly for more information about this option.
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