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Warning: a geeky time sink!

Folks have long said that music is in the human soul. But who’d have thought it could be in our DNA as well?

Turns out… lots of people have thought it… and done it.

And if you have the raw data from your own autosomal DNA test with either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you can make music out of your DNA too.

Now let’s get one thing out of the way up front. There is no socially-redeeming genealogical value to anything that follows. This whole making-music-from-DNA thing is a more-than-slightly-geeky time sink.

Okay. You have been warned. Read on at your peril.

If you’ve tested with 23andMe, there’s an easy way to hear the music of your genes. This past week, the service launched what’s called DNA Melody, under the Ancestry Labs link once you’ve logged in to your account.

What you get is an eight-second clip of what your very own personal DNA sounds like in a player like this one, and 23andMe lets you share, so if you want to hear mine, just click on this image to go to the page where it’s available:

Others have made theirs available online as well. 23andMe’s Mark Ackerley, a composer trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is the one who developed the algorithm that creates the melody,1 and you can listen to his tune on Youtube.

Roberta Estes, who blogs at DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, posted a link to hers as well,2 and you can hear it here.

We’re told that the clip is constructed by using traits like height or eye color and assigning a rhythm based on those traits. The key is based on maternal haplogroup — mine is H3g — and the pitches are based on utterly-genealogically-useless information like what kind of earwax you have or whether or not you sneeze when you first walk out into sunlight.3

And, of course, because it’s based on individual characteristics, you get the scary warning:

Reminder: 23andMe uses your Genetic Information at specific locations in your DNA (or “SNPs”) to create your Music File. Because the Music Files are based on the same SNPs for each individual, someone with a similar Music File could infer other portions of your Genetic Information by comparing their Music File to yours.

Sigh

That’s why I think it may be even more fun to use a different way to make music from your own genes.

First, you need to download your own raw data from an autosomal test from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe. Then you need to extract the text file that contains the raw data from the file using an unzip utility. Next, you need to open the text file and select a random batch of your markers. Those are the letters that appear in pairs, like AA, CC, GG, TT, GT etc. Edit out everything except those letters.

Then head over to MusicAlgorithms, a website developed with funding from the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium, where you can use your randomly-selected markers to make your own little tune.

You start by going to the DNA sequence page and pasting your random sequence into the top box. (I grabbed about 150 pairs completely at random.) Then just play with all the other options. I chose to group the bases as codons (1B), assigned numbers to bases (1C), used the default scaling values in B and the default durations in C, and then let ‘er rip.

And here’s the final product. Click on the image to listen in (it’s in midi format):

You can change a lot of the way the final piece sounds by changing the options, and when you’re done you can download your masterpiece to save it forever.

And, by the way, if you don’t have your own raw data or you’re leery about using it, you can still play with this. On the algorithms page, there are options for constants like pi, or Pascal’s Triangle, or even a Chaos Algorithm. (And no, for heaven’s sake, I have no clue what any of that is except pi; the only thing I remember from my math classes is that the proper junior-high response to the mathematical formula pi r squared is: “no, pie are round.”)

And, one last chance to get in on the fun here, you can still listen to DNA music even if you don’t want to make it yourself. For example, at the Nucleic Acid Database Project of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, you can listen to “different musical algorithms to provide a unique look into the structure of DNA” at its Musical Atlas page. I’m kind of partial to the BDH071 composition myself, as long as nobody asks me to explain the study on which it’s based.

Or maybe you’d rather hear a performance of DNA sequence of mouse immunoglobulin gamma variable region? It’s certainly among the first pieces written based on DNA — the music was published by Susumu Ohno and Marty Jabara in 1986. The website that hosts it is from the University of Houston.

Then there are compositions called The Music of Protein Sequences by M.A. Clark, a biologist at Texas Wesleyan. You can listen to Gamma Crystallin or Blue cone receptor or any of a number of other music samples produced from protein and DNA sequences on her Protein Music Samples page.

And if this is your new thing, there are two entire CDs filled with music created from DNA sequences at Our Sound Universe: The Music of Susan Alexjander. One set is called DNA Music / DNA Suite, and the other Sequencia. Samples from both can be found here.

Yep. A more-than-slightly-geeky time sink. Just what we all need…


 
SOURCES

  1. ScottH, “We Got the Music in You,” The Spittoon, 23andMe blog, posted 12 Aug 2012 (http://spittoon.23andme.com : accessed 18 Aug 2012).
  2. Roberta Estes, “DNA Melody,” DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, posted 17 Aug 2012 (http://dna-explained.com : accessed 18 Aug 2012).
  3. ScottH, “We Got the Music in You,” The Spittoon.
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