I'm writing to let you know about the OpenWorm Kickstarter Campaign (link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/openworm/openworm-a-digital-organism-in-your-browser). As you may know, the goal of the OpenWorm project is to digitally simulate a C. Elegans organism. By design, the project is organized in a geographically distributed fashion and all of the work is being done in the open (on GitHub and Youtube) using entirely open source code and public data.
Though I'm not a worm researcher, I'm supporting OpenWorm's Kickstarter because I strongly believe in their overall mission. As a computational neuroscientist, I see the project as a necessary first step in the simulation of more complex organisms, including mice and ultimately humans. Moreover, I see my Kickstarter contribution as a future investment in the open source tools and methodologies that OpenWorm develops that I hope to eventually use in my own research.
More philosophically, I think that lately the field of neuroscience has suffered from some amount of "overhype", especially given the initially promised outcomes of recent large-scale brain initiatives (e.g., recording from all neurons in a mammalian brain, simulating an entire human brain). While these projects have been hugely successful in catalyzing widespread public support of basic neuroscience research, many neuroscientists see these promises as perhaps a bridge too far given the current research state.
Though OpenWorm's goals are itself highly ambitious, the relative simplicity of the worm (named neurons, stereotyped connectomes and musculature, the ability to image neuronal activity in vivo) lends itself well to this attempt. By conducting the project in the open and basing success on quantifiable goals (i.e., how similar are the simulated worm's movements and neural activity to experimental measurements), the project will serve as a roadmap for future endeavours in multi-scale data integration and organismal simulation.
Lastly, the geographically distributed and highly interdisciplinary nature of the project makes it challenging to receive funding through traditional NIH-style mechanisms. For this reason, I'm asking you to join me in supporting the project's Kickstarter campaign.
OpenWorm Website: http://www.openworm.org
Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/openworm/openworm-a-digital-organism-in-your-browser
Project overview by OpenWorm member and neuroscientist Jim Hokanson: http://jimandscience.blogspot.ca/2014/05/modeling-worm-thoughts-on-openworm.html
OpenWorm QandA on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/246dlw/science_ama_series_im_stephen_larson_project/
Post-doc and Developer of neuroelectro.org
University of British ColumbiaCentre for High-Throughput Biology