Scientists have turned coronavirus structure into music with the help of AI to interpret how it spreads
Researchers have turned to music to understand how the new coronavirus attacks humans. With help from Artificial Intelligence (AI), the team translated a portion of the virus into music, capturing even the smallest details that go unnoticed under a microscope.
More specifically, the team focused their attention on a structure that resembles a crown, also called spike protein. This protein helps the virus get attached to and enter human cells, making them extremely efficient in infecting people. So far, the virus has infected more than 1,432,577 people worldwide and killed 82,172.
You can listen to their music here. "As you listen, you may be surprised by the pleasant, even relaxing, tone of the music. But it tricks our ear in the same way the virus tricks our cells. It’s an invader disguised as a friendly visitor," Dr Markus Buehler, a musician, and MIT professor said in an interview.
Talking about the rationale behind using music as a tool to understand the virus, Dr Buehler said: "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."
"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," he added.
AI assigns a musical note to each amino acid, thereby translating the entire protein into music. The music, in turn, will help researchers read information stored in the spike protein. The spike protein, like all other proteins, are made of amino acids, The music can help scientists figure out how these amino acids are arranged. "These structures are too small for the eye to see, but they can be heard," Dr Buehler added.
The team hopes to understand why the virus is so good at infecting people. In addition to that, this musical score can help researchers design drugs that target the spike protein and prevent it from attaching to human cells.
"Through music, we can see the SARS-CoV-2 spike from a new angle, and appreciate the urgent need to learn the language of proteins." Dr Markus Buehler said.