A, C, and G, sure, but what's T?

A Sunday science story from last week: “Choir to sing the ‘code of life.’”

Scientists and composers have produced a new choral work in which performers sing parts of their own genetic code. Human DNA is made up of just four different chemical compounds, which gave musician Andrew Morley the idea of assigning a note to each of them. The new piece, Allele, will be performed by the New London Chamber Choir at the Royal Society of Medicine on 13 July.

My first reaction was to think that this would be the most awful song ever. But it depends a lot on which part of the DNA they choose. They could pick some repetitive element, where different people have different lengths, which might end up sort of like a round. And of course most of the people will have the same sequence most of the time, so there will be relatively little discordance – and the choice of musical encoding will make a difference to how variation sounds.

Maybe they can just encode the bases as the notes of a major chord and BLAST for a sequence that corresponds to “Taps.”

Members of the 40-strong choir are all participants in a scientific study.
Each of them has had his or her DNA decoded in order to see what it is genetically that distinguishes great singers from the rest of us.

But then one starts to wonder what it actually means to have your sequence in a song. For most parts of our DNA, we have two – are they picking one? Are they singing genotypes? What’s the deal? If they’re “participants in a study” looking for singing genes, I suppose the data are SNP genotypes. Those would be pretty misleading as a basis for singing “sequences.”

What a mess. But I’m sure that the audience will be appropriately beard-stroking in their appreciation.