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Sounds Of HIV: Genetic Code, Musically Translated

A few months ago, Alexandra Pajak, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, contacted me about an album of music based on the DNA of the HIV virus she was about to release. I feel lucky that the album is just on its way to my CD player right now.

You can buy the album on Amazon (release date is October 26.) Note that some of the proceeds will go to the Emory Vaccine Center, which conducts research for an HIV vaccine. If you wonder how it was made, here’s the explanation:

Sounds of HIV is a musical translation of the genetic code of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. Every segment of the virus is assigned music pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties. In this way, the sounds reflect the true nature of the virus. When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.

In English, the nucleotides Adenine, Cytosine, Uracil/Thymine, and Guanine are abbreviated with the letters A, C, T, and G. Since A, C, and G are also musical pitches in the Western melodic scale, these pitches were assigned to the matching nucleotides. To form two perfect fifths (C-G and D-A), “D” was arbitrarily assigned to musically represent Uracil. I assigned the pitches of the A minor scale to the amino acids based on their level of attraction to water.

On Sounds of HIV, depending on the track, only nucleotides and/or amino acids “play” as music. Tracks 1 and 10 are based on the first and last nucleotides of the RNA chain. Tracks 2-9 “play” the proteins and sometimes the nucleotides on top of the proteins.

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*


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