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Executable Biology

By Norman Chan

The OpenWorm initiative aims to create a perfect virtual simulation of a primitive life form.

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal wrote a fascinating story about the efforts of the OpenWorm initiative--an open-source project that has been working on creating a perfect virtual organism. These aren't Sims we're talking about; the OpenWorm is a cell-for-cell recreation of the real-life roundworm, or C. elegans. These creatures, which have had their entire genome sequenced, are composed of only a thousand cells, and have a neural circuit composed of just 302 neurons. That makes the biologist and computer scientists behind OpenWorm believe that they can create an accurate computer model of its anatomy, down to the cellular level (free of much abstraction). And if a simulation is achieved, could this example of example of executable biology be considered "alive"?