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We’re all very familiar by now with what COVID-19 feels like, we’ve been warned repeatedly what the symptoms are and to stay away from anyone as much as we can if we have them.

But one of the more stranger Coronavirus headlines we’ve read recently is that you can now HEAR the virus. 

COVID-19 itself is quite unique in that it has a ‘corona’, or crown of spikes on its surface. Each of these spikes is made up of chains of protein that are folded and looped over each other.

Musician and engineer Markus Buehler and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have managed to utilize these spikes to create a musical representation of how the virus sounds.

By assigning each protein and structural element a musical accompaniment, scientists have created the piece of music you can hear below.

The result is an eerily soothing piece of music that wouldn’t sound completely out of place in a spa or hotel. The reason you are hearing these notes is the rhythm, duration and volume of each note are representing how the amino acids that make up the proteins are arranged whilst the tangled chains are represented as melodies.

Our brains are great at processing sound. In one sweep, our ears pick up all of its hierarchical features: pitch, timbre, volume, melody, rhythm, and chords,” he said. “We would need a high-powered microscope to see the equivalent detail in an image, and we could never see it all at once. “Sound is such an elegant way to access the information stored in a protein.Markus Buehler

What makes it even more interesting is that scientists may actually be able to use this piece of music to try and beat COVID-19.

“Understanding these vibrational patterns is critical for drug design and much more,” Buehler continued.. 

“Vibrations may change as temperatures warm, for example, and they may also tell us why the SARS-CoV-2 spike gravitates toward human cells more than other viruses.’’

The spikes on the outside of the virus are what allows the virus to latch onto us and Buehler believes that if scientists can find a protein that matches the rhythm and timing of an antibody then this could inhibit the virus’ ability to infect people.

Definitely not what we expected to read today. We’re all hoping for a breakthrough in the battle with Coronavirus soon, maybe music holds the answer?

[1] Wrapp et al., “Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation,” Science, 2020, DOI: 10.1126/science.abb2507

[2] Buehler et al., “A Self-Consistent Sonification Method to Translate Amino Acid Sequences into Musical Compositions and Application in Protein Design Using Artificial Intelligence,” ACS Nano, 2019, DOI: pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.9b02180

[3] Tegan Taylor, “Scientists translate coronavirus spike protein into music, revealing more about its structure”, https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2020-04-06/coronavirus-music-scientists-translate-spike-proteins-melody/12124424

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