Playing Proteins as Songs Helps Researchers Hear Patterns

All living things are made up of proteins. Each protein is a string of
amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, and each protein can
consist of dozens to thousands of them.

Scientists write down these amino acid sequences as series of
text letters. Clark and her colleagues assign musical notes to the
different values of the amino acids in each sequence. The result is
music in the form of "protein songs."

By listening to the songs, scientists and students alike can
hear the structure of a protein. And when the songs of the same protein
from different species are played together, their similarities and
differences are apparent to the ear.

"It’s an illustration transferred into a medium people will
find more accessible than just [text] sequences," Clark said. "If you
look at protein sequences, if you just read those as they are written
down, recorded in a database, it’s hard to get a sense for the

When people look at a page full of text corresponding to
protein sequences, Clark explained, they tend spot clusters of letters
but fail to see the larger pattern.

"If you play [the protein song for that sequence] you get that
sense of the pattern much more strongly," she said. "That’s my feeling
at least. You hear stuff you can’t see."

From National Geographic