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The Sound of cancer: A population of genes and their related proteins in a model of colon cancer has been transposed into “music.” The result is an “inharmonious” composition, compared with healthy samples that sound more harmonious.

Using data collected from a study of protein expression in colon cancer, Alterovitz analyzed more than three thousand related proteins involved in the disease. He whittled down the thousands of proteins to four key networks, using various genetic databases that catalog relationships between genes and proteins. He then assigned a note to each network, and together, these notes formed a harmonic chord. He compared the “music” of normal, healthy human data sets to that of the colon-cancer samples and found that, according to his model, colon cancer sounded “inharmonious.”

Researchers may be able to translate other diseases into music by “tuning” the system that Alterovitz has developed. For example, researchers can identify protein networks related to the disorder of interest and then assign notes that, in combination, form inharmonious chords, compared with their healthy counterparts.

He adds that the technique may have applications outside medicine, such as for simplifying information for air-traffic controllers, and in any other industry that requires analysis of large data sets. There is also an opportunity to use protein music purely for music’s sake: a DJ in the Boston area has expressed interest in playing Alterovitz’s “music” in local bars–a potential revenue stream for musician and mathematician alike.

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Credits: Gil Alterovitz

Tagged: Biomedicine, cancer, music, gene expression

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