A SIGNATURE EVENT OF
THE 2010 SAN DIEGO SCIENCE FESTIVAL
Saturday March 20, 2010 at 10:00AM
Point Loma / Hervey LIbrary Community Hall
IS THERE MUSIC IN OUR GENES? DO WE HAVE GENES FOR MUSIC?
These were questions this Festival Signature Event hosted by FanFaire Foundation addressed in a multimedia CONCERT-LECTURE which showed that science and music are NOT worlds apart as most of us are inclined to think–indeed that they can and do converge!
Dr. GLORIA CAJIPE, FanFaire Foundation co-founder, Technical Director/Editor of FanFaire.com (a webzine on classical music and opera), and a research chemist in an earlier career presented answers to these interesting questions in a talk that could alternately have been entitled “A Musical Introduction to Gene and Protein Structure.” Her multimedia presentation was based on studies by biochemists and molecular biologists in the US and abroad who in the course of their research on gene and protein sequencing devised a way of translating nucleic and amino acid sequences of various genes and proteins into veritable musical compositions.
In tandem with the lecture, recitalist and concert soloist Dr. TATIANA ROITMAN, who is a Lecturer with the Music Program of the University of San Diego, demonstrated at the piano the development of gene-encoded protein music from single notes (amino acids) to a Debussy-like variation (protein) based on the work of UCLA “music scientists” Rie Takahashi and Dr. Jeffrey Miller. She also opened the program with pieces from the “Petite Suite” of ALEXANDER BORODIN, the famous 19th century Russian composer AND renowned professor of chemistry, of whom it can unequivocally be said: In him science and music truly converged. The event closed with a popular Variation by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who along with Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the great physicist (and violinist!) Albert Einstein’s two favorite composers.
Here’s a VIDEO of TATIANA ROITMAN playing an excerpt from Borodin’s “Petite Suite.”
SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS GENE MUSIC?
It all began in the early 1980s when some origin-of-life scientists (biochemists, molecular biologists, geneticists) recognized that similarities between the sequencing of musical notes andthe repetitive sequencing of bases in DNA could make the study of gene and other biomolecular structure infinitely more pleasurable. A piece of music after all is nothing but a sequence of vibrating information called notes, which can be grouped into phrases, chunked into melodies, crafted into movements, and finally assembled into the beautiful complexity of a sonata, concerto, or symphony. For notes, substitute bases (as in adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine). String millions of them together according to sequences prescribed by nature, and you end up with the DNA that makes up an organism’s genes. Or else substitute amino acids (as in leucine, lysine, etc). Link thousands of them together in a chain of repeating sequences, and you get those other complex molecules of life called proteins. Each base, each amino acid, and the whole caboodle of genes and proteins, like the notes that make up music, vibrate at various frequencies.
If we could listen to them, these scientists wondered, what would we hear? Curious, they went ahead and probed, transposing frequencies here and there, assigning bases and amino acids to notes or chords. Some collaborated with composers. The output has been prodigious. CDs have been produced and scores written for gene and protein music – in a wide variety of styles. From the protein of the lowly E.coli to human hemoglobin; from the amino acid sequences of bird flu to Huntington’s disease – there’s music in all of them.
So, yes! There’s definitely music in our genes and our proteins. And it’s possible that there’s a gene for music in our DNA. In the meantime… “Rhapsody in Flu,” anyone?