In a surprising marriage of science and art, researchers at MIT have developed a system for converting the molecular structures of proteins, the basic building blocks of all living beings, into audible sound that resembles musical passages. Then, reversing the process, they can introduce some variations into the music and convert it back into new proteins never before seen in nature.
Although it’s not quite as simple as humming a new protein into existence, the new system comes close. It provides a systematic way of translating a protein’s sequence of amino acids into a musical sequence, using the physical properties of the molecules to determine the sounds. Although the sounds are transposed in order to bring them within the audible range for humans, the tones and their relationships are based on the actual vibrational frequencies of each amino acid molecule itself, computed using theories from quantum chemistry…
The whole concept, Buehler explains, is to get a better handle on understanding proteins and their vast array of variations. Proteins make up the structural material of skin, bone, and muscle, but are also enzymes, signaling chemicals, molecular switches, and a host of other functional materials that make up the machinery of all living things. But their structures, including the way they fold themselves into the shapes that often determine their functions, are exceedingly complicated. “They have their own language, and we don’t know how it works,” he says. “We don’t know what makes a silk protein a silk protein or what patterns reflect the functions found in an enzyme. We don’t know the code.”
By translating that language into a different form that humans are particularly well-attuned to, and that allows different aspects of the information to be encoded in different dimensions — pitch, volume, and duration — Buehler and his team hope to glean new insights into the relationships and differences between different families of proteins and their variations, and use this as a way of exploring the many possible tweaks and modifications of their structure and function. As with music, the structure of proteins is hierarchical, with different levels of structure at different scales of length or time. Paper. (paywall) – Chi-Hua Yu, Zhao Qin, Francisco J. Martin-Martinez, Markus J. Buehler. A Self-Consistent Sonification Method to Translate Amino Acid Sequences into Musical Compositions and Application in Protein Design Using Artificial Intelligence. ACS Nano, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.9b02180 More.
So they have a language, even though they supposedly sludged together just by chance?
Hey, if this music turns into something like Palestrina, we will know for sure it’s design. (It could be design without turning into Palestrina but the reverse does not follow.)
See also: Evidence for irreducible complexity in proteins
Cells and proteins use sugars to talk to one another
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