Saturday, February 12, 2005

Music behind the DNA

Found via boing_boing, Carl Frederick in Analog SF has an article describing how he converted fruit fly DNA to music. It's not bad, if you like tinkly tunes that don't quite deliver a punchline. But you can hear repetitions and patterns in it pretty well. (Note: My Bio class has made his procedure below sound almost sensible. Maybe I'll propose it as a lab to the teacher.)
To keep to 'the spirit of the genome', I did the conversion, not from the bases (adenine, cytosine, thymine, guanine), but from the 'codons'--the sets of three bases that code for an amino acid. There are 64 (4X4X4) possible codons and only 20 amino acids. Amino acids then, are represented by a variable number of codons--from six down to one. I associated those amino acids with the highest number of codon representations with the most common notes of the c-major scale. I also tried to code so that only the exons (the actual expressed gene sequences, as opposed to the introns, the noise) were used. For this, I needed to use methionine and the three codons that don't represent an amino acid, as start and stop indicators. And, in addition, I used them as musical codas (endings of a section of music). One particular amino acid, I used as a flag to indicate that the following codon represented a change of note duration, or a sharp or flat. These two-codon instructions, since they are comparatively rare, do not drive the music out of c-major, and don't change the tempo particularly often.

The Science Behind the Story

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