Thursday, January 17, 2008

Music's in the Genes

Strange musical factoid #4837 - Proteins can be encoded into into music.

Last year, scientists working at UCLA decided that it would be easier (and perhaps a bit fun) to hear patterns in proteins instead of simply looking for them. Rie Takahashi, an undergraduate working on her thesis under Dr. Jeffery Miller, hit upon the idea of transforming the sequence of 20 amino acids that creates a protein into a musical sequence. But being a classically-trained pianist, Takahashi knew that assigning 20 individual notes to the amino acids would create incredibly disjunct music. Instead, she grouped similar amino acids together under chords and then assigned different chord qualities to each amino acid based on its individual characteristics. So a group might be assigned a D major chord, but one amino acid would be in root position and another in 1st inversion.

Once the transfer of amino acids into chords was accomplished, she applied rhythm based on the protein sequence and played the result on the piano. Here, for example, is the Huntingtin protein, the one responsible for Huntington's disease: In case you aren't near a piano right now, you can hear a computer-rendered version here.

The scientists involved claim that added benefits of viewing proteins through your ears include being able "to help make protein sequences more approachable and tangible for the general public and children. The project also opens opportunities for visually impaired scientists to access protein sequences more readily." All well and good, but what I see is an entire cottage industry based on tunes from proteins. Imagine Protein the Musical and bands like Rage Against the Protein.

Since Huntington's disease ultimately killed Woody Guthrie and he helped bring awareness to the disease, I think we should start with him. There's the music - anyone able to fit some of Guthrie's lyrics to the protein?

1 comment:

Tad and Monica said...

Hey Andrew and Joy--
Irrelevant to this post, but we just heard about Andrew's grand-dad. Praying for y'all.
Tad and Monica