You’ll have no doubt seen visual representations of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by now. It’s defining structure: protrusions of protein loops which have been dubbed ‘crowns’ or ‘corona’ sitting upon a circular ball housing the RNA core.
In an attempt to better understand the virus, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have managed to assign each physical characteristic a musical equivalent. The team, led by musician and engineer Professor Markus Buehler have successfully created a musical representation with the aid of state of the art A.I. and the results are mesmerizingly haunting.
“Understanding these vibrational patterns is critical for drug design and much more,” Professor Buehler told ABC News Australia, “Vibrations may change as temperatures warm, for example, and they may also tell us why the SARS-CoV-2 spike gravitates toward human cells more than other viruses.”
So as well as being beautiful to listen to, this musical construct may also unwrap the secrets of a virus that has literally stopped the world. “As you listen, you may be surprised by the pleasant, even relaxing, tone of the music,” Professor Buehler said. “But it tricks our ear in the same way the virus tricks our cells. It’s an invader disguised as a friendly visitor. Through music, we can see the SARS-CoV-2 spike from a new angle, and appreciate the urgent need to learn the language of proteins.”
Full study text
Buehler et al., “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: pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.9b02180
– Simon Huxtable