How is this done?

NEMALOAD is split into four stages:

  1. In the molecular biology stage, we make transgenic strains of worms with neurons that can be optically imaged and perturbed, using optogenetic techniques including genetically encoded calcium indicators, optostimulators, and possibly* depending on the empirically determined constraints of spectral separation optoinhibitors.
  2. In the imaging stage, we build a light-field microscope capable of resolving individual neurons while tracking a freely behaving worm as it moves within a plate.
  3. In the perturbation stage, we develop a two-photon digital holography system (integrated with the microscope constructed in the previous stage) which will be capable of targeting individual neurons for optostimulation or optoinhibition (i.e., for molecular excitation at a selected wavelength).
  4. In the final stage, modeling, we will use the tools built above to implement interrogation (i.e., random-access read and write) of the C. elegans nervous system, and build an automated experimental design (a.k.a. active learning) system which uses the interrogator to infer a dynamic model. We then embed the dynamic model in a simulated environment, and verify that it behaves like the real worm in its real environment.

What's the point?

The potential benefits of the NEMALOAD project include:

  1. Basic discoveries in neuroscience: No analysis of an entire nervous system at the single-neuron level has ever been performed, due to the large number of recent technologies required. It is almost certain that some new insights about the way nervous systems work will emerge, although it is impossible to predict what those might be.
  2. Pushing the envelope of data-driven modeling: The interrogator provided by this project will provide access to a world of data with an unprecedented combination of richness and tractability. It will be an extremely effective training resource to evolve the next generation of inference and representation methods for dealing with highly interconnected systems, which likely will apply beyond neuroscience to domains including cancer biology, immunology, stem cell biology, evolutionary biology, sociology, economics and finance.
  3. Providing a foundation for uploading research: If we can replicate the mind of an individual worm, including its unique properties based on both genetic and environmental factors, then* modulo philosophical assumptions we have made that worm immortal as a virtual entity. If it can be done for a worm, the next steps are to attempt a zebrafish, then a fruit fly, then a honeybee, then a mouse, then a dog, then a macaque monkey, then a chimpanzee, and then, ultimately, a human. Even if the philosophical assumptions fail, and human immortality through uploading is fundamentally impossible, a human upload process would be of incalculable value in curing neurological and mental illnesses. If the transfer of human consciousness to digital substrate is indeed possible, it would fundamentally transform society, and if NEMALOAD is successful, I hope it inspires ethicists, philosophers, economists, sociologists and other humanities thinkers to take human uploading more seriously and help prepare our civilization for the possibility of its arrival.

a davidad production