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COVID's genetic code was loaded into a computer and interpreted as music

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This is the sound of the coronavirus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: COVID's genetic code has been fed into a computer and interpreted as music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The person behind this is Mark Temple, a microbiologist in Sydney, Australia.

MARK TEMPLE: I'm both a musician and a scientist. So I thought, I'm well-placed here to actually approach this from a different angle. No one's really done this.

MARTINEZ: He developed a computer algorithm that assigns musical notes to DNA sequences. And he says it could help save lives.

TEMPLE: I heard about this thing called sonification. It's a way of using audio to analyze or to represent data. So I thought, well, could I get some DNA data and make audio from that?

FADEL: Generally, computers display DNA as lines and lines of letters.

TEMPLE: Each letter represents a module in the DNA sequence.

FADEL: But there are hundreds of thousands of letters in a sequence.

TEMPLE: It's like trying to read a book that has no punctuation.

MARTINEZ: So Dr. Temple created a way to listen to the DNA while the letters scroll across the screen.

TEMPLE: Down at the bottom here is a DNA sequence. So let me just play this and you'll see what I mean.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TEMPLE: So what you just heard then, those other little blips - like, I'll play one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TEMPLE: Like that one, blip. It's a stop codon, a little bit of sequence that's important to the cell. So because it's important, I put a blip on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Temple has updated DNA sonification, which has been around for about 40 years. This music you're hearing now is based on the DNA of insulin.

MARTINEZ: Which was turned into an album and released in the '90s for entertainment. Temple says music and science have a lot to offer each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF DR DAVID DREAMER AND RILEY MCLAUGHLIN'S "INSULIN A & B CHAINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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