This is the sound of the coronavirus, according to scientists. It’s not as spiky as you might think

Alice Yan

American scientists have turned the structure of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 into music.

The spikes that allow the virus to bind to human host cell receptors are made up of combinations of amino acids, and scientists from the department of civil and environmental engineering of Massachusetts Institute of Technology used an artificial intelligence technology named sonification to assign each amino acid a unique note and converted the entire protein into a score.

These amino acids tend to curl up into a helix or stretch out into a sheet. Researchers captured these features by altering the duration and volume of the notes.

The 110-minute-long piece, which includes chiming bells, strings and lilting flutes, represents different aspects of the protein, according to a report published in Science magazine last week.

The MIT scientists said they chose a koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, to play the music thanks to its soothing sound.

The project also has a serious purpose because scientists hope it will help to identify parts of the protein that could be targeted by antibodies or drugs by searching for specific musical sequences that correspond to these areas.

This is a faster and more intuitive method than conventional methods used to study proteins, such as molecular modelling, said the researchers.

Hong Kong orchestra posts videos of players making music on social media

The idea is based on a study by the same team published in the journal ACS Nano in June last year on how to translate amino acid sequences into sound.

The approach provides an avenue for understanding sequence patterns, variations, and mutations and offers a mechanism to explain the significance of protein sequences. It could be used to detect the effects of mutations through sound, according to the study.

By Tuesday morning, the coronavirus has infected more than 1.2 million people around the world, recording a death toll of over 67,000.

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