60-Second Science

The Music of Amino Acids

UCLA researchers have created a code to translate amino acid sequences into music, to inform and entertain non-scientists and children.

The science test of the day is to name the composer of this music.  (Music plays.)  It’s you.  That’s a sequence of human amino acids turned into music by scientists at UCLA to express the many, many combinations of these building blocks of proteins and cells.  The researchers hope that the new music will help nonscientists, young people and the blind appreciate the complex and beautiful world of cell biology.  But making the music wasn’t easy.  They had to find a way to use the 13 notes in western music to represent 20 basic amino acids. 

The solution: express individual acids as chords.  For example, phenylalanine and tyrosine are both assigned a G major chord, but the notes in the chord are arranged differently.  The result: music that’s more listenable and subtle than previous attempts to convert biology into sound.  The team is also working on a computer program to let people send in codings for a protein and have it returned as music, like this piece based on horse amino acids.  (Music plays.)

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