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No. 46: Jul-Aug 1986

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The Music Of The Genes

"S. Ohno has cracked a new genetic code. The 58-year-old geneticist doesn't have the whole thing worked out yet, but when he sets the genes to music -- or music to genes -- some strange and wonderful things occur. To wit: "The SARC oncogene, a malignant gene first discovered in chickens, causes cancer in humans as well. When Ohno translated the gene into music, it sounded very much like Chopin's Funeral March.

"An enzyme called phosphoglycerate kinase, which breaks down glucose, or sugar, in the body revealed itself to Ohno as a lullaby."

Seeing this item is from a newspaper, it was nearly consigned to the wastebasket. But wait a moment, Susumo Ohno is a Distinguished Scientist at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, CA. Could there be something to it?

Reading further; we find that Ohno believes that the structure of music seems to parallel that of the genes. He translates genes into music by assigning notes according to molecular weights. His ultimate goal is the discovery of some basic pattern (melody?) that governs all life.

(Anonymous; "Scientist Tunes in to Gene Compositions," San Jose Mercury News, p. E1, May 13, 1986. Cr. P. Bartindale.)

Comment. Not too long ago the motions of the planets were supposed to conform to an esthetically pleasing Music of the Spheres. Ohno, it seems, has found a way to express the Music of the Genes. Are simple organisms just short tunes and humans full-fledged operas? Are some refrains repeated in different organisms? All this is not entirely frivilous because a fundamental tenet of science expects nature to be describable in terms of a few laws that are not only simple but esthetically pleasing as well.

From Science Frontiers #46, JUL-AUG 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987