You Can Now Listen To Coronavirus After Scientists Translated It Into Music
A group of researchers in the US have used artificial intelligence to make sure we're not only seeing coronavirus, but hearing it too.
The result? A surprising -- and somewhat unsettling -- gentle and whimsical tune.
While the almost two-hour long track shared by the group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can provide productive background music to your daily work grind, scientists are planning to use it for something much more important.
It's hoped mapping the virus into sound will allow scientists to better understand the virus and its biomedical processes and may even help to one day design a drug to overcome it.
Musician and engineer Markus Buehler told MIT News the group created the sound by representing the physical protein structure of SARS-CoV-2 -- which has a distinct crown-like spike.
He said the 'multi-layered composition' included the protein's entangled chains, its amino acid sequence and its intricate three-dimensional folds.
"These structures are too small for the eye to see, but they can be heard," Buehler said.
"The resulting piece is a form of counterpoint music, in which notes are played against notes. Like a symphony, the musical patterns reflect the protein’s intersecting geometry realised by materialising its DNA code."
According to Buehler, sound can access a lot of information stored in a protein that would otherwise require a high-powered microscope for the equivalent detail to be captured in an image.
He claimed that translating the coronavirus protein to sound showed the virus had an "uncanny ability" to exploit the host in order to multiply.
"Its genome hijacks the host cell’s protein manufacturing machinery, and forces it to replicate the viral genome and produce viral proteins to make new viruses," he said.
"As you listen, you may be surprised by the pleasant, even relaxing, tone of the music. But it tricks our ear in the same way the virus tricks our cells. It’s an invader disguised as a friendly visitor."
Buehler believes sonification can allow scientists to compare the biochemical processes of its spike protein with previous coronaviruses, like SARS or MERS and even use the approach to design drugs to attack the virus.
"In the music we created, we analysed the vibrational structure of the spike protein that infects the host. Understanding these vibrational patterns is critical for drug design and much more," he explained.
"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."