Sonification of DNA & Amino Acids


by Stephen Andrew Taylor


In this sonification the four nucleotide bases of DNA--A, T, C, G--are each given a single sound, to signify the genetic code they carry. Even though they look fairly similar to the amino acids shown below, their importance lies in the information they carry in their sequence (for example, the start codon ATG), rather than their physical structure. As a mnemonic, each sound is made from a different kind of instrument:

A (adenine) is a metal bell
T (thymine) is a wooden guiro (made from a tree)
C (cytosine) is a ceramic vase
G (guanine) is a wine glass

I made a few other musical choices: the two larger molecules, A and G, have sounds with a long decay, to signify their greater size; the two smaller molecules, T and C, are staccato. Also, A/T and C/G are bound together to create the double helix; but the A/T bond is not as strong, so those sounds (bell and guiro) have a softer onset than C and G (ceramic and glass). Finally, when DNA is transcribed to RNA, T is replaced with U (uracil); this is why the guiro sound for T is so different from the other three sounds.


DNA

A (adenine)

metal

T (thymine)

wood

C (cytosine)

ceramic

G (guanine)

glass

Click each image above to hear its corresponding sound.
Play the file below to hear part of a sonified gene; or, go back to the main page.


Coded for by the four DNA bases, the twenty amino acids below fit together, like Lego blocks, to build proteins. To hear the importance of their physical structure, for each amino acid, every "step" in the side chain (carbon, OH, NH, etc.) gets a note (the diagrams below start at the right; side chains stretch out to the left). A ring of atoms gets a chord. If an amino acid has sulfur, you can hear a hissing sound. If the amino acid is hydrophilic, the notes go up; if the amino acid is hydrophobic, they descend. The more extreme an amino acid is (based on this Wikipedia article on hydrophobicity scales), the farther up and down the notes go; if it's electrically charged (the five amino acids colored in lavender), reverb is added. Many thanks to Daniel Stelzer for help with programming, and to saxophonist Nicki Roman and flutist Melody Chua, for providing the samples I used to make these sounds - although they sound kind of like pizzicato strings, they are actually woodwinds! The descending (hydrophobic) sounds are mostly saxophone; ascending (hydrophilic) sounds are flute.

Click each image below to hear its corresponding sound; the notes follow each carbon atom in a side chain, going from right to left.

Amino acids - special cases

G Glycine

(no side chain; just a single note)

P Proline

(a single ring, played as a chord)

Hydrophilic amino acids with polar uncharged side chains - ascending

S Serine

T Threonine

N Asparagine

Q Glutamine

Hydrophilic with positively charged side chains - with reverb

H Histidine

R Arginine

K Lysine

Negatively charged - more reverb

D Aspartic Acid

E Glutamic Acid

Amino acids with hydrophobic side chains - descending

A Alanine

V Valine

C Cysteine

I Isoleucine

L Leucine

M Methionine

F Phenylalanine

Y Tyrosine

W Tryptophan