Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Mark Temple, Lecturer in Molecular Biology, Western Sydney University

I’ve been studying molecular biology for many years. I also have a keen interest in music, having played with Sydney pop band the Hummingbirds. Usually, there is little overlap between these two pursuits, but I recently became aware of people using DNA sequences to create music.

This is called sonification. The people doing this usually treat DNA sequences as random patterns to create nice-sounding music. But what if we used musical notes to find out something useful about DNA sequences, like where mutations occur?

So I put on my coding hat and devised a tool that converts a DNA sequence into an audio stream. The results were recently published in the journal BMC Bioinformatics.

Hear the difference

DNA acts as a template for the production of proteins in our bodies. A DNA sequence is a long, continuous chain made up of only four chemical bases referred to as G, A, T, or C. They repeat in various defined patterns to make up a gene. Many genes are identical in sequence within a species; that is, from person to person, or from virus to virus.

But sometimes one of the chemical bases in sequence is different from the usual pattern – this is called a mutation, and it can indicate an error that could create problems for the person or microorganism involved.

In my online audio tool, any changes in a repetitive DNA sequence due to mutation give rise to a very distinctive change in sound.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s an artificial test DNA sequence in my online audio tool that consists of a series of Gs:

By contrast, here’s an artificial test DNA sequence that includes a mutation:

In this natural DNA sequence, a change in the repetitive sound at approximately 0.13 indicates a subtle change (a mutation) in the sequence in that spot:

Audio from repetitive DNA.

Coding the codons

In real life, of course, DNA sequences are more complex than that. For starters, real DNA sequences include codons. A codon is a sequence of three bases which join up to create a unit of DNA information. One codon directs one building block known as an “amino-acid” in a protein. In nature, special codons mark the start and stop points of genes. In my approach, these special codons are used to start and stop the audio.

It is not intended that you can hear a note and relate it to a particular codon, however the landscape of the audio is characteristic of the underlying sequence (as you can hear in the examples).

So, how’s all this sound when you apply my sonification system to a real piece of DNA that makes a protein?

Take, for example, a human DNA sequence that codes for a protein (for the experts in the audience, its the RAS protein that is often involved in cancer). Here’s how it would look when expressed traditionally in written form:

image Human Ras sequence. DNASonification/Mark Temple

And here’s how it sounds in my online audio tool:

The coding sequence above always has one instrument playing (the one that actually codes for the protein).

Lastly, when I “sonified” some sequences that encode for important RNA components of cells (not proteins), you can hear periods of silence in the audio – often interspersed with percussion sounds so you can hear spots where there are stop codons:

Audio from noncoding RNA.

Normally, scientists rely heavily on visual inspection of DNA sequences to unlock their secrets. Sonification alone is not intended to replace visual inspection but rather complement it, in the same way that colour may highlight the properties of a DNA sequence.

Outside of the rigours of DNA research there is strong interest within the community to better understand how DNA sequences determine our physical form and how mutations we accumulate in DNA over time affect our health.

Hopefully, listening to audio derived from DNA may help scientists better understand how cell biology works.

Authors: Mark Temple, Lecturer in Molecular Biology, Western Sydney University

Read more http://theconversation.com/what-does-dna-sound-like-using-music-to-unlock-the-secrets-of-genetic-code-78767

Reclaim Her Name: why we should free Australia's female novelists from their male pseudonyms


Early and mid-career scientists face a bleak future in the wake of the pandemic


It's hard to admit we're lonely, even to ourselves. Here are the signs and how to manage them


The Conversation


Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Link Building Secrets - Comprehensive Guide

Link building has proven to be an effective approach when it comes to promoting your online website. Let's analyze the topic of developing an effective link building strategy for site promotion ...

Julia Smith - avatar Julia Smith

What to Expect from Your NDIS Verification & Certification Audit

The National Disability Insurance Agency administers NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) in Australia. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission governs it. As a welfare support scheme of...

Sarah Williams - avatar Sarah Williams

Why You May Need A Tower Scaffold Hire

When constructing a building, or even a multilevel structure, you must use a tower scaffold to get you into position. What is unique about this type of scaffolding is that you can build it highe...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion