Scientists are making music from the structure of coronavirus

8 April 2020, 13:12

Scientists have turned the structure of coronavirus into music
Scientists have turned the structure of coronavirus into music. Picture: Markus J. Buehler

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The structure of COVID-19’s famous spike protein has been, somewhat beautifully, translated into music.

Scientists have created a musical composition from the structure of coronavirus, turning a source of anguish into something hypnotic and beautiful.

The sounds – twanging harp and guitar strings, chiming percussion and woodwinds – all represent different parts of the spike-like protein, which punches through the virus’ surface and helps it attach onto cells.

The composition, created by professor Markus Buehler alongside scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses a new technique called sonification, in which each of the 20 amino acids making up the spikes are assigned a musical note.

Each amino acid has a unique vibrational frequency, meaning the chemical structure of entire proteins can be translated into audible representations, such as note volume, melody, harmony and rhythm – or even a full musical score (listen below).

Click here for the latest coronavirus advice from the NHS >

The ‘protein music’, according to a press release, could also help create new compositional techniques in classical music by bringing to light the various rhythms and tones of proteins.

“In the evolution of proteins over thousands of years, nature also gives us new ideas for how sounds can be combined and merged,” said Buehler.

Read more: Debbie Wiseman composes a piece anyone in self-isolation can learn and play >

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in 80,000 deaths worldwide, and there are currently an estimated 1.5 million cases.

In a time of great difficulty and confusion for many, it’s rather moving to see a physics concept being translated into music – a medium that people around the world are able to connect to.

You can also listen to ‘Viral Counterpoint of the Coronavirus Spike Protein’ on SoundCloud here.