turning a bad situation into an opportunity

Posted on April 29, 2009
Filed Under medicine, music | Leave a Comment

Stephan Zielinski did the only thing you can do when you’re faced with the possibility of a deadly disease ravaging the earth’s entire population, he turned its DNA code into ambient music.  Now we’ll be able to hear what’s killing us…

Swine flu has been sequenced.  More out of curiosity than anything else, I wrote code to translate a key gene into a piece of ambient music:

Swine Flu Hemagglutinin (mp3, 6.7 megabytes)

The algorithm I used is a bit complicated, but just in case you’re curious: since the gene is expressed as a surface protein antibodies can sense, it’s considered as a string of amino acids.  Each beat corresponds to one amino acid, and the piece is in 3/4 time, so each six measures would correspond to five turns around the alpha structure.  (I’m weaseling because I haven’t the foggiest idea how the protein actually gets folded.)  Amino acids with side chains that are neither aromatic not aliphatic control the piano and organ: the nine non-hydrophobics the piano, and the four hydrophobics the organ. The three amino acids with aliphatic side chains control the low synthesizer, while the four with aromatics control the percussion.  Strictly speaking, this is a version of swine flu hemagglutinin, FJ966952:

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