Closeup image of hands playing the piano

baona/iStockphoto

Listen to the music of proteins folding

Proteins, the building blocks of tissues and organs, also regulate how genes are expressed. So it’s important to determine how they work, something scientists typically do with visual images and graphs. Now, researchers have come up with a new way for analyzing how proteins function: music. Inspired by previous research mapping data to sound—like the famous "chirp" from the detection of gravitational waves—researchers decided to assign a musical pitch and rhythm to different qualities of three proteins, including their chemistry, affinity to water, and structure. Then, using melody generation software, they strung together the different notes to create melodies that could be played on a piano. (You can listen below.) To show that these auditory representations were as good as the visual ones, the researchers next asked a group of participants—mostly students who had studied both music and proteins—to listen to the melodies and match them to the images. They were right at least 70% of the time, even without the help of a visual aid, like the synchronized scroll bars often seen with karaoke lyrics, the scientists reported last month in Heliyon. This means, they say, that these recordings might allow researchers to use their ears, along with their eyes, to identify protein patterns indicative of genetic diseases like Alzheimer’s.

R. P. Bywater et. al., Heliyon 2, 10 (20 October 2016) Elsevier Limited