Many of us have sat down in front of our iTunes for the purpose of arranging our favorite songs into what I like to call â€œthe soundtracks of my life.â€ Even if youâ€™ve never heard of iTunes you likely have at some time sat cross-legged in front of your stereo surrounded by a pile of records, tapes, and CDâ€™s in order to put together a â€œmixed tapeâ€ for yourself or someone you love.
But have you ever wondered what your body would sound like if your blueprint, or DNA, was converted to musical notes instead of, wellâ€¦you?
Now, thanks to researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles you can stop wondering. In an effort to elucidate genetic patterns and provide a means for the visually impaired to study genomics they have converted genome encoded protein sequences to musical compositions which, according to at least one composer I know are â€œpretty amazingâ€¦there's even counterpoint... not just a static melody.â€
In order to accomplish this researchers needed to â€œfind a mode of converting genomic sequencesâ€¦to piano notes that sound reasonable to a musician's ear while remaining faithful to the science of the protein sequences.â€ Earlier attempts to extract melody directly from DNA were complicated by the limited range of notes that can be generated from the four species of nucleic acids found in DNA resulting in â€œa string of notes that has no recognizable theme or musical depth as a composition.â€
In order to achieve recognizable theme and musical depth each of the 20 amino acids was initially assigned a note over a 2.5 octave range. In order to make the music more â€œmusicalâ€ the amino acids were then grouped together based on the their physical properties. All members of a group are then assigned the same fundamental note. The notes within the group are then distinguished from one another "by being given a different version of their respective chordâ€. Rhythm was then introduced by assigning quarter, eighth, and half notes to the three codons that encode each amino acid in the genome. The more a codon is used in a particular organismâ€™s genome, the longer the note is held.
So far the group has made music out of approximately 20 proteins. These include a somewhat somber and discordant SRY: Male Determining Factor and a deceptively pastoral adaptation of the precursor of Prion proteins which are known for their ability to cause Spongiform Encephalopathyâ€™s (more commonly known as â€œMad Cow Disease") in mammals. On its website the group also offers up compositions from other musically inclined molecular biologists which includes a jazzy little ditty for Alcohol Dehydrogenase, a most important protein for the â€œThank God Its Fridayâ€ crowd.
Intrigued? Listen here.
Know of a genomic sequence youâ€™d like to put to music? Create your own here.
Image: Partial human ThyA protein sequence with rhythm based on the human codon distribution from â€œTakahashi R, Miller JH., â€œConversion of amino-acid sequence in proteins to classical music: search for auditory patterns.â€, Genome Biol. 2007;8(5):405.
Copyright © 2010 Jen
Music of Life
Copyright © 2010 Jen
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