Inspired by the idea that music, like life, arises from a fundamental code, two Spanish microbiologists have started a project called "Genome Music." Like Johann Sebastian Bach before them, who composed a piece based on the four letters of his last name, Aurora Sánchez-Sousa and Fernando Baquero, of the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid, are writing music based on the chemicals that make up the DNA molecule.
Working with French composer Richard Krüll, the pair turned the complete nucleotide sequences of several microbe genes into compositions based on DNA bases: A (adenosine), C (cytosine), G (guanine), and Thymine (which they have translated to "Re," or D). Parallel melodies were also constructed by attributing notes to the encoded amino acids. The result resembles Byzantine-Gregorian chants, played by stringed instruments accompanied by flute. The authors embellished the format with melodies that, Sánchez-Sousa and Baquero say, were "harmonically determined by the genome basic sounds, just as productions of the human mind are, to some degree, necessarily linked to basic genomic information."
The music was first performed last month during Madrid's Week of Science. Now the scientists are going commercial, with a CD containing 10 songs based on 10 genes. Potential future classics include the "slt2" (the gene for Saccharomyces kinase, which keeps yeast cell walls intact), and the gene for protease nexin-II involved in Alzheimer's disease.