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Researchers Turn Proteins Into Music To Learn More About Protein Structure

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Researchers developed a system that converts amino acids in a protein to audible music. The goal is to allow scientists to enable new insights about protein structures and create variations of proteins that have never been observed in nature.  ( Steve Buissinne | Pixabay )

Researchers at MIT have developed a new system that converts the molecular structures of protein into musical sequences and vice versa.

The team is hoping that the new system will enable scientists to gain new insights about protein structures and maybe create a new type of protein that has useful properties.

Using Art In Science

The researchers, led by Markus Buehler, a professor of engineering at MIT, described the new system in a study published in the journal ACS Nano on June 26, Wednesday. They revealed that the system has successfully converted the 20 types of amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins, into a 20-tone scale. A long sequence of amino acids in a protein, therefore, will become a sequence of notes that can be played.

The team also used artificial intelligence to study the catalog of melodies produced by different proteins. Then they instructed the AI to either introduce small changes to the musical sequence or create completely new musical sequences. They translated the sound back into proteins to create new proteins that have never been seen in nature before.

The researchers explained that the AI has learned the language of how proteins are designed and, therefore, can produce variations of existing proteins and brand-new proteins. Buehler added that because there are "trillions and trillions" of possible combinations, the AI is better equipped to do the job. He said that the system can produce a new variant of protein within microseconds.

However, Buehler also admitted that they do not know the underlying rules behind the system.

"The shortcoming is the model doesn't tell us what's really going on inside," he stated. "We just know it works."

Hearing Proteins

The researchers have developed an Android smartphone app that can be used to listen to the music converted from a chain of amino acids. The app is called Amino Acid Synthesizer, and it can be downloaded for free from Google Play.

"When you look at a molecule in a textbook, it's static," said Buehler. "But it's not static at all. It's moving and vibrating. Every bit of matter is a set of vibrations. And we can use this concept as a way of describing matter."

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