Beyond the Petri Dish: When Biotechnology & Music Collide

Image via Pixabay.

Image via Pixabay.

Using biotechnology to create beautiful music

If you thought biotechnology was restricted to cell cultures, lab benches, and petri dishes, then you thought wrong.

In 2013, University of Chicago’s Francisco Castillo Trigueros and Josiah Zayner developed the chromochord, the first musical instrument to be powered by biotechnology.

The chromochord is an apparatus consisting of vials containing light-, oxygen-, and voltage-sensing (LOV) proteins extracted from Avena sativa, a common oat plant. These LOV proteins contain a photoreceptor (flavin-mononuvleotide chromophore) that is activated through sunlight, which causes the protein structure to expand. The chromochord houses different combinations of LOV proteins in the 12 vials, so that when blue light is shone upon them, the different combinations of LOV proteins experience different light absorption capacities, producing varying wavelengths.

Sensors connected to the LOV proteins in each vial will detect this light absorption and use a spectrophotometer to read the light waves. The spectrophotometer will measure wavelength changes, activating the Arduino to ‘relay’ this signal to a computer, allowing the chromochord to play sound.

Trigueros and Zayner are prospective of designing an instrument that will involve bacterial (and even human) cells and sound, rather than stimulating them using light.

These proteins have their own music to them…which is normally inaudible to us, [revealing] something that may be a little bit mysterious or invisible to us in nature.  –Jason Freeeman, Director for the Center for Music Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology

Interdisciplinary studies through arts and science

Some may view art and science as two completely distant fields of study; however, colleges and universities have begun to implement the two studies into one complete degree. Actually, when you think about it, the two disciplines aren’t so different after all, as they yearn to teach the same philosophy that nature is a thing of beauty.

We are persistently curious creatures with endless potential for creativity and innovation. I can only think that combining arts and science into a single discipline results in the creation of new techs and gadgets that may stimulate the mind and reward the senses.

Canadian schools that offer combined arts and science programs

Please be aware that this is a limited list of schools in Canada only, and you should do additional research if you are interested in programs elsewhere. As well, please be advised that different schools will offer different disciplines in arts and science. Arts may encompass different disciplines, and may include subjects in the social sciences and humanities. The same can be said for science disciplines as well. In that case, you should refer to the school’s website to learn more about their combined arts and science programs!

  • McMaster University
  • University of Toronto
  • Queen’s University
  • University of Saskatchewan
  • McGill University
  • Brock University
  • Nipissing University
  • Trent University
  • Mohawk College
  • Sheridan College

 Renee C. has received her B.Sc. in Honours Life Sciences at McMaster University. She loves educating others about different topics in science, and has developed a passion for scientific outreach. When she’s not writing articles for Hemtecks, she’s either volunteering or checking her social media accounts every 20 minutes. Along with Tiffany (Tianhemtecks), she also facilitates the blog’s Facebook page. 


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