Gil Alterovitz, a research fellow at the Harvard Medical School, has devised a way of musically representing genetic sequences.* Alterovitz hopes to use the technique as a real-time health monitoring tool. As reported in the Harvard Crimson, Alterovitz presented some of the tunes as part of the Cambridge Science Festival last week:
While showing protein structures on a screen, Alterovitz played the compositions made when he matched up certain instruments to protein structures, creating harmonious melodies for healthy patients and atonal ones for sickly ones.
Now, is that really accurate? Every time I’ve watched a consumptive perish on the operatic stage, it’s always been to the accompaniment of ringing triads. (Although all those “classical music is dying” types will probably accuse Alterovitz of swiping their diagnostic tool.) On the other hand, I do like the idea of a hospital ringing with the cacophony of hundreds of genomic melodies in Cagean counterpoint.
Alterovitz may end up with a hit on his hands, according to this report:
By turning the components of genetic and proteomic data into musical notes, he was able to represent biological networks such as gene regulation and protein interaction in a way that sounded exciting to a broad audience of all ages.
Hey, if he can make proteomic data sound exciting to any age group, the sky’s the limit.
*Update (5/1): Dr. Alterovitz notes in the comments that it’s the genetic expression (for example, the resulting manufactured proteins), not the sequence itself, that’s being musicalized.