back to article Boffins upload worm's brain into a computer, teach it tricks

Boffins from the Technische Universität Wien in Austria have created a simulated brain, run it in a computer, and taught it a trick. "Brain" may be overstating things just a tad, because the simulation was of nematode C. elegans, a tiny worm that has just 300 or so neurons. We know that number because nematode C. elegans has …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As simple as that thing may be...

    ...it's still smarter than Trump.

    /s?

    1. Unclezip

      Re: As simple as that thing may be...

      Trump is so dumb he's been a self-made millionaire several times over, and beat all the odds to become POTUS. You? Still living in Mom's basement, with no future in sight.

      1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        Re: As simple as that thing may be...

        .. when you say 'self made millionaire several times over' do you mean because he had to start over between bankruptcies? Or because he has several millions left, after he inherited a couple of hundred million in 1970s money?

        ROFL!

        1. Jonathan 27

          Re: As simple as that thing may be...

          Why do people keep calling Donald "Daddy's Money" Trump "self-made"? I think you're stuck in a reality distortion field.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As simple as that thing may be...

        [Trump has] been a self-made millionaire several times over

        We're not talking about Fred Trump, we're talking about his no-good narcissistic egomaniacal man-child son Donald.

      3. TheDillinquent

        Re: As simple as that thing may be...

        Actually Trump is so dumb that he's lost an inherited fortune several times and is now proceeding to fuck up a whole country.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      The worm is the spice - the spice is the worm!

      I figured I'd have to give a Dune reference, before someone else beats me to it.

  2. Old Used Programmer

    I wonder...

    ...if their simulation would run on a Raspberry Pi is something like real time?

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: I wonder...

      Probably not. C. Elegans may only have 302 neurons, but a neuron is far more than a binary switch, and does a lot of 'internal processing' itself. They encode both digital and analog information, and operate as a complex machine in their own right. Though there is no sinple comparison between digital computers and the 'wetware' of a brain, it would make more sense to say that C.Elegans has a brain comprising 302 parallel processors.....

      1. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: I wonder... @Doggy Geezer

        "Though there is no sinple comparison between digital computers and the 'wetware' of a brain, it would make more sense to say that C.Elegans has a brain comprising 302 parallel processors....."

        Shhh! Don't tell Intel! They’ve got enough worms of their own already.

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: I wonder... @Doggy Geezer

          "Shhh! Don't tell Intel! They’ve got enough worms of their own already."

          Oh god, that's a spectre too horrid to contemplate, think my brain just went into meltdown.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder...

        Indeed. I'm not sure if this is the same project, but there has been a recent EU project to model the nervous system of si.Elegans using several hundred FPGAs (pretty much the largest ones that were available at the time).

        If I remember right the hardware is located at Nottingham Trent Uni.

    2. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Go

      Re: I wonder...

      The worm might enjoy the pie though.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Devil

    A smart worm....errr.. a smart simulated worm. I have a feeling that this should be in The Rise of Machines sub-head.

    Just for the sake of argument, the words "computer" and "worm" get a tad scary when used together.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Boffin

    Surely the necessary comparison

    is to train a *real* nematode to balance a stick on the end of its tail.

    Betcha they can't...

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Surely the necessary comparison

      It'd be an eligans dance

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Surely the necessary comparison

        That'd be fuckin' awesome, to use the vermicular.

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Surely the necessary comparison

      is to train a *real* nematode to balance a stick on the end of its tail.

      C elegans is only about 1mm long, so it would have to be a very tiny stick.

  5. Empire of the Pussycat

    let me be the first to say that...

    i, for one, welcome our new wriggly overlords

    1. mosw

      Re: let me be the first to say that...

      I'm OK with that too so long as it is not these iWorms:

      "14 cattle eyeworms removed from Oregon woman’s eye"

      https://www.sciencenews.org/article/14-cattle-eyeworms-removed-oregon-woman-eye?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=latest-newsletter-v2

  6. andyp-random-number

    code?

    I for one would love to see the complete code. Is it like Game of Life? Write the code with a few simple rules then just sit back and wait for a pattern to emerge and then say, "look it did this".

    I'm not belittling it, I love watching Mr Conway's creation, wrote my own version not long ago, just wondering exactly what these scientists have done.

    I did find https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnx3d25pcDIwMTd8Z3g6NDQ3YjZhZTZiYWJiNDI5NA

    but it's only a tiny algorithm. I guess they are working within a frame work and only applying algorithms within that framework.

    1. MonkeyJuice

      Re: code?

      Probably involves http://openworm.org/, since that's been in the works for years and also simulates c elegans.

      1. andyp-random-number
        Pint

        Re: code?

        cheers for that. Interesting. I downloaded the "code" but it appears to be data and code for manipulating the framework.

        I was expecting a source code such as a complete "c" program or Python whereby the program lines went something like

        IF nerveA TRIGGERS nerveB THEN

        move muscle C

        ELSE

        X

        ...but it turned out a little more complicated :)

        I'll have to dig a bit deeper when I have more beer.

  7. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Skynet rising?

  8. frank ly Silver badge

    Motivation?

    "...it just emerged by training a biological nerve system ..."

    Was there some kind of 'punishment' applied if the pole fell over and a 'reward' if the pole was balanced for a certain time?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Motivation?

      "Was there some kind of 'punishment' applied if the pole fell over and a 'reward' if the pole was balanced for a certain time?"

      Then you've just given it the concept of 'work'!

      Now all they need to do is train it to do this 'work' for the benefit of the 1%, and the worm would be a welcome addition to the rich and their 'race to the bottom' on cost.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Motivation?

        It took many years to get my son to learn the concept of 'work'

        1. DropBear Silver badge

          Re: the concept of 'work'

          It's exceedingly simple though - "as long as you agree to spend most of your life doing something you have zero desire to do, I agree to sponsor it".

  9. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    Someone put them in contact with the ITU 5G ML working group.

    Next!

  10. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Pirate

    The Lair of the White (Nematode) Worm

    Balancing poles first, then knives :(

    I would not go into that laboratory at night!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095488/?ref_=nv_sr_1

  11. Suricou Raven

    Good start.

    Now map a leech - 10,000 neurons.

    The mapping is a lot harder than the simulation. The c.elegans scan isn't taken from an individual - the species is unusual in having the position and connection of every neuron statically defined genetically, so they are all the same. It took a great many delicate dissections, each one uncovering a little more, to create a composite map.

    1. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

      Re: Good start.

      No, the dissection is actually finer than that.

      Take one C. elegans worm, fix it and embed it in suitable sectioning material. Then use a microtome to cut it into very, very thin salami slices and image each of these under a microscope. Finally, using a computer running much the same software as is used on CT scanners, reconstruct the animal's nervous system in 3D.

      Repeat on a few different worms and there you have the nervous system of the brain (actually a nerve ring around the pharynx) of a nematode. Sit back and enjoy.

      1. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Good start.

        "Repeat on a few different worms and there you have the nervous system of the brain (actually a nerve ring around the pharynx) of a nematode. Sit back and enjoy."

        Now for some applied research:

        1. Repeat the investigation on the nerve ring around the anus.

        2. Sell research to Essex Police.

        3a. Motivation.

        3b Excavation.

        3c Revelation.

        4. PROFIT

  12. AceRimmer1980
    Coat

    Hex has worms?

    It may work if they can get all the bugs into it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What sort of computer was it? I'm guessing it was an Apple.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If an Apple has a worm does that make it rotten?

      1. Paul Herber

        If the worms were to start attacking each other, could this be a new era of core wars?

    2. BongoJoe Silver badge

      Wouldn't it contain only half a worm?

  14. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Athletic arthropod

    "Once they got their nematode running"

    I am trying to imagine a running worm. After that, centipedes and millipedes. The mind boggles.

  15. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    The Known Worm

    It isn't just the brain, we can trace the origin of every single cell in the worm all the way back to a fertilised egg.

    The problem is other creatures are not so determined in their cell lineages. Vertebrate development is rather fuzzier and rather more plastic than that in worms. But it is a nice thing to have done nevertheless.

    The worm people are a bit humourless though. All the genes are alphanumerically named according to a schema. There is no sonic hedgehog gene in the worm, except there is and I can't be bothered to look up what they call it. It won't be something memorable though. Fun was had in taking single fruit fly genes named after mutation phenotypes and naming multiple vertebrate genes. Sonic was named because the natural world is not replete with different sorts of hedgehog, we had desert hedgehog and nobody complained about tiggywinkle hedgehog.

    My favourites though are the fringes, radical and lunatic. A knowledge of Cold War political terminology is required to get it.

  16. Atomic Duetto

    Jesus!!

    Farkin!! I read "woman" instead of "worm".. In my defence I've been working all weekend on a ridiculously large bid. How many Hail Marys (or other elreg penance units) do I need to say (drink)

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Jesus!!

      For bad eyesight I sentence you to six male hairies!

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Jesus!!

        "For bad eyesight I sentence you to six male hairies!"

        A new elReg unit of measurement? Alas I am but a single hairy male.

  17. Blockchain commentard
    Paris Hilton

    Shouldn't they try with something equipped with less brain power - like reality TV contestants?

    Only Paris available as an icon, other reality TV people are available.

  18. Korev Silver badge
    Joke

    Storage

    Does anyone know if they used WORM storage for the data?

  19. Mage Silver badge

    This is nonsense

    Even if there are only 300 neurons, we don't quite know how they work or how it makes a nervous system / brain.

    I'm confident that this is not a simulation of a nematode's 300 neurons in any meaningful sense.

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: This is nonsense

      Actually, we DO, in quite a few meaningful senses...

  20. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    In other news..

    The Conservatives have recently announced their new PM hopeful: N. E. Matode.

    They have assured the public that their new candidate has all the good points of the previous incumbents but none of the bad.

    1. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: In other news..@COM

      Bull**it

      There have been virtually no good points since Maggie.

  21. Brennan Young

    Bah humbug.

    It'll have to maintain a dinner plate spinning on the pole, accompanied by the 'disco' version of the "War of the Worlds" theme (natch), before I'm at all impressed

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