Research assistant Rie Takahashi, a microbiologist who studied classical piano for 14 years, developed the Gene2Music technique with microbiologist Jeffrey Miller at the University of California-Los Angeles; the pair published their results in the latest issue of Genome Biology 2007.
"It's a great teaching tool because everyone is familiar with music and it's a universal language," the Discovery Channel report quotes Takahashi as saying. The conversion method could render genomic coding more accessible to both the general public and vision-impaired scientists.
The team's initial study focused on a protein involved in making and repairing DNA. Takahashi gathered the DNA patterns of the protein's 20 constituent amino acids; he then paired the various amino acids together into chords based on their abiliity to attract or repel water. The result was 13 basic chords, with the higher chords representing the water-attracters and the lower keys representing the water repellers.
Rhythm is determined by the three DNA letters that code for each amino acid in the protein. The more frequent the sequence of the three letters, the longer the duration of the chord. So the chords and the rhythm ultimately convey information about the protein's structure, according to the Discovery Channel.
"Previous efforts have sought either to create works of art, and were directed primarily to the artistic community, or tried to evoke in the listener a sense of the 'music of the spheres' inherent in DNA," the Discovery Channel quotes Neil Smalheiser, assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as saying.
"In contrast, the Gene2Music project shares the sensibility and mindset of the bioinformatics community, which seeks to create public, open-source tools for discerning biologically meaningful patterns within protein and DNA sequences," he adds.
Free software developed by team member Frank Pettit can be downloaded from the Gene2Music website: http://www.mimg.ucla.edu/faculty/miller_jh/gene2music/home.html