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Playing COVID Proteins

Coronamusic By: Deborah J. Good

The COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2 was first recognized in December 2019 and was declared a public health emergency and then a pandemic by March 2020. In the United States to date, this has resulted in over 99 million cases, and 1.1 million deaths.  The introduction of a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein “S” has resulted in administration of 657 million doses, accounting for nearly 81% of the US Population having completed their primary series and received their bivalent “new” vaccine dose. The new bivalent vaccine was made in response to the differences in the viral S protein variants during viral evolution. In this project we sought to use the process of “sonification” to convert the SARS-CoV-2 viral strains with their S protein variants, the county of origin for the variants and the rise and fall of the variants to music, as a representation of the timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To date, we have collected all viral S protein sequences from the major strains of the SAR-CoV-2 virus, starting with the original infective virus –the Wuhan-1 strain.  We stopped collecting data on viral sequences with the Omicron BA2 and BA.5 lineage variants to begin to concentration on the musical conversion of the data into a composition for the public.  All of the protein data from each strain was aligned and variant specific mutations were highlighted.  The country-of-origin for each strain was determined. Much of the Summer and Fall 2022 was spent in the genetic analysis of the variants and in determining how to best represent each amino acid with a specific musical motif. The motifs developed by Dr. Nichols can be found on this page:

Currently Dr. Nichols is working to convert the data for the S protein sequences at the amino acid level to compositions. Virginia Tech faculty will perform his COVID data sonification composition for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and computer on the New Music + Technology Festival on Tuesday, September 26 at 8 pm in the Cube and the VT Philharmonic will perform his sonification composition for symphony orchestra on their Spring 2024 concert in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre.

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