Music Heals

Music Heals

Author: Harini N P

Music, which can conquer anything, has proven once again that COVID19, isn’t any exception. Researchers in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came up with a tune for the Coronavirus. Yes, you heard it right. All of us are aware of how this virus looks. Its spiky look has now become a common sight on various news channels and internet. However, the sound that this virus makes is something new to us. With the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the researchers have turned Coronavirus into a melody.

The spikes of the Coronavirus, which are made up of a combination of Amino acid sequence and the structure of the spike protein of the pathogen COVID 19, have been turned into sounds. Each amino acid was given a unique note in the musical scale and the entire protein was converted into a preliminary music score which plays for an hour and forty nine minutes. This technique of representing data in the form of sounds is termed as sonification. Developing better understanding of these vibrational patterns of the virus will be critical in designing an effective drug therapy in future, perhaps by searching for a protein with a similar melody and rhythm that would make an effective antibody and limit the virus’s ability to infect the hosts.

With this process, the project lead, Mark Buehler, believes that potential therapies can be established in the hope of preventing the deadly outbreaks by assisting scientists in finding where, on the protein, the antibodies or drugs might bind and could assist scientists to spot specific details that they may have not noticed until now. This research is one of a kind and it is interesting to witness how creatively human brains can work in developing solutions for various problems that the world is encountering today.

Going back to the early Greece rituals, music was used to soothe pain, North Americans and Africans used singing as part of their healing rituals and in India the use of specific ‘ragas’ for curing ailments have been in practice since ages and is used by music therapy practitioners even to this day. In the wake of the pandemic today, many countries have witnessed people keeping their spirits high by tuning into various songs. The citizens of Wuhan were seen chanting “Keep it up, Wuhan!” and singing patriotic songs from their windows, which encouraged everyone in their efforts to save their city. In Italy, citizens have been playing instruments and singing from their balconies during the lock-down. Many parodies have surfaced on YouTube giving hope to people all over the world, reiterating the fact that this epidemic shall be defeated.

While the MIT research offers great scope for finding antidotes, there are certain shortcomings with respect to the working of the AI. Also, the awareness about this technology has not reached a wider audience yet. A free Android smartphone app, called Amino Acid Synthesizer, has been launched. This app has been designed to play the musical compositions have been created by the researchers. Once this gains momentum, the work on such projects will be enhanced and this will contribute tp achieving greater success in combating the pandemic.

Moreover, the spikes of this virus contain three protein chains folded into intriguing pattern, which becomes difficult to see. The microscope and other apparatus to track its movements will require huge amounts to be spent on them. Hence the music notes for these proteins, when heard, can provide a better understanding in coming up with solutions and can be of great help when this technology gains a wider reach. This is a promising project and with dedicated efforts, this will definitely help in contributing towards overcoming these uncertain times.

Music unites the human race. We can always find solace in the lilting tunes when we lend our ears to this divine art. From music therapy to sonification, it will always be there to guide the mankind towards peace and well-being. That’s why it is said that music heals!

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