Protein structure of Thymidilate Synthase A sounds like video-game music

That musical score above? It’s a piece of classical music based on the structures of the protein Thymidilate Synthase A. Some biologists at UCLA developed a set of nifty parameters for translating the structures into music, ran a couple of different proteins through them, and produced a pile of sheet music. You can check out the sheet music and listen to the MIDI files played via your browser’s built-in music module — a piano, in my case — here! (To listen to that specific bit of music pictured above, click here.)

Interestingly, the results sound eerily like the cheesy MIDI soundtracks to mid-80s side-scrolling arcade shoot-‘em-up games like Gradius or Scramble. I’d love it if a casual-game designer used use this stuff for a new Flash-based shooter!

There are also some possibly practical uses for this technique, too, listening to proteins is a novel way of analyzing their structures and how they work. As the researchers write:

Huntington’s disease is an example of a triplet repeat disorder in which an expansion of a repeated glutamine sequence causes the protein to lose its proper function. Such an expansion leads to a late-onset neurological disorder. The LacY permease protein spans the membrane of Escherichia coli and has a distinct hydrophobic region of phenylalanines. This sequence facilitates the protein to move through the bacterial membrane. In the Huntingtin example, one can hear an obvious repeated pattern of glutamines and polyprolines, and this pattern can be compared to the less obvious repeated pattern of phenylalanines heard in the LacY permease.

I love the idea of using music and sound as a new vector for studying biology. It reminds me a bit of Jim Gimzewsk’s work on “sonocytology” — listening to the vibrations of individual cells, which I blogged about two years ago.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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