Health and Healthcare Systems

If a virus could sing ... Could this musical version of COVID-19 help us defeat the disease?

A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus linked to the Wuhan outbreak, shared with Reuters on February 18, 2020. NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. - RC243F9W97D9

A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus. Image: NEXU Science Communication/via REUTERS

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Engineering and Construction is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Engineering and Construction

  • MIT professor created musical representation of COVID-19.
  • Says it is a clearer version of the vibrating virus than a static diagram.
  • Haunting music could also have scientific applications.
  • Hear the interview on our World Vs Virus podcast.

We're all now familiar with the spiky look of the coronavirus protein. But what do you think it might sound like?

An engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown us. By assigning musical notes to each part of the virus' structure, he has created a whole composition which, as it turns out, is similar to the ambient music pioneered by Brian Eno.

Have you read?

"What you hear is a musical representation of the virus spike protein, which is the protein that affects the human cells," Professor Markus Buehler told the World Vs Virus podcast.

His musical representation of the virus is, he says, more accurate than classical static diagrams that fail to show the virus' constant movement and vibration.

"They don't actually look like they look in a chemistry textbook because atoms and molecules are continuously moving. They kind of look like a vibrating string."

Loading...

And it is that vibration that fascinates Buehler, who is looking at whether it can be exploited to combat the virus.

"That is something we have been thinking about for this protein and other proteins in the last couple of years, to use the knowledge of the nanoscopic vibrations as a way of actually disintegrating the structure.

"I do a lot of research on fracturing of materials in my work and a lot of times we're trying to prevent fracturing from happening. But in this case, we actually are trying to find a pathway to deliberately destroy a structure. Vibrations are a really important pathway to do that."

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

And the interlinking harmonies created by musically mapping proteins might also tell us something about our own creative process.

"Counterpoint is something that musicians have played with and explored for a couple of centuries and we actually find that this idea of counterpoint is really prominent in the structure of proteins, in particular in the folding, as well as the folding of our brain," Buehler said.

That means we could look at music, "not only as a display of art or creativity, but actually as a way of learning about the underlying structure that has created this art" - the human brain.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsArts and Culture
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Feeding the future: why Renovation and Reinvention are key to saving our food system

Juliana Weltman Glezer

June 13, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum