All living things are made up of proteins. Each protein is a string of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, and each protein can consist of dozens to thousands of them.
Scientists write down these amino acid sequences as series of text letters. Clark and her colleagues assign musical notes to the different values of the amino acids in each sequence. The result is music in the form of "protein songs."
By listening to the songs, scientists and students alike can hear the structure of a protein. And when the songs of the same protein from different species are played together, their similarities and differences are apparent to the ear.
"It's an illustration transferred into a medium people will find more accessible than just [text] sequences," Clark said. "If you look at protein sequences, if you just read those as they are written down, recorded in a database, it's hard to get a sense for the pattern."
When people look at a page full of text corresponding to protein sequences, Clark explained, they tend spot clusters of letters but fail to see the larger pattern.
"If you play [the protein song for that sequence] you get that sense of the pattern much more strongly," she said. "That's my feeling at least. You hear stuff you can't see."
From National Geographic