Innovative communication of molecular evolution through sound: a biological sonification concert

Edward Martin*, Shelly Knotts, Michelle Phillips, Nicholas Weise, Thomas Robert Meagher, Daniel Barker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Background  A major challenge of evolutionary biology is making underlying concepts accessible to wide audiences. One method for doing so is to utilise multi-media formats that have potential to engage and inform through entertainment. This pilot study outlines and discusses a sonification concert that integrated musical performance with a range of evolutionary concepts and ideas fundamental to an understanding of evolution, such as protein sequences. We aimed to showcase sound-art objects and live-coding performances created using sonification as a mechanism for presenting complex biological processes to both researcher and non-researchers. We sought to evaluate the effectiveness of this art-adjacent practice for public engagement with evolutionary biology research, and also to gather feedback to guide future events. Toward this end, we held a live concert showcasing biologically based algorithmic music exploring links between evolutionary biology research, sound art, and musical performance. The event had three main acts: a generative audio-visual piece giving an artistic representation of SARS coronavirus based on a parameter-mapping sonification of protein sequence of the replicase polyprotein; a pre-recorded string ensemble demonstrating the effects of codon selection on translation speed using parameter-mapping sonification; and a live-coded music piece interactively sonifying protein structures.
Results  Our event attracted 90 attendees. We evaluated success using direct observation and written feedback forms with a 58% response rate: 95% of respondents stated they had enjoyed the event and 63% indicated they were inspired by it.
Conclusions  Presenting the sonic outputs of sonification research in a concert format showed good potential for the pursuit of public engagement with evolutionary biology research, demonstrating the ability to engage curiosity and inspire an audience while also conveying scientific content alongside the nuanced and complex world of modern evolutionary biology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution Education and Outreach
Volume17
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2024

Keywords

  • Sonification
  • Public engagement
  • Generative music
  • Coronavirus
  • Molecular biology
  • Algorithmic music
  • Live coding
  • Protein structure
  • Qualitative research
  • Molecular evolution

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