May 8 2009

Algorithm used to produce “Swine Flu Hemagglutinin”

The algorithm used to produce “Swine Flu Hemagglutinin” (PDF, 16K)

Apr 28 2009

“Swine Flu Hemagglutinin”: amino acid sequence as ambient music

Swine flu has been sequenced.  More out of curiosity than anything else, I wrote code to translate a key gene into a piece of ambient music:

“Swine Flu Hemagglutinin” (MP3)

The algorithm I used is a bit complicated, but just in case you’re curious: since the gene is expressed as a surface protein antibodies can sense, it’s considered as a string of amino acids.  Each beat corresponds to one amino acid, and the piece is in 3/4 time, so each six measures would correspond to five turns around the alpha structure.  (I’m weaseling because I haven’t the foggiest idea how the protein actually gets folded.)  Amino acids with side chains that are neither aromatic not aliphatic control the piano and organ: the nine non-hydrophobics the piano, and the four hydrophobics the organ. The three amino acids with aliphatic side chains control the low synthesizer, while the four with aromatics control the percussion.  


Update 2009-04-30: For folks coming in from the article Making music out of swine flu and wondering about the line, “Zielinski saw it as a form of highly organized information that a human did not design.”: Yes, that phrasing raises the question of who or what I think DID design it. (God? Aliens?) In reality, self-organizing systems evince great complexity without need for a conscious designer. Swine flu was not designed at all– it evolved.

Strictly speaking, this is a version of swine flu hemagglutinin, FJ966952. The actual amino acid sequence:


Maggie Koerth-Baker’s excellent article from 2009 April 28, “Swine Flu Q&A”, is available here:
Maggie Koerth-Baker, “Swine Flu Q&A”, at