Professor Markus Buehler designs new proteins with the help of artificial intelligence. He recently translated the spike protein of the novel coronavirus into sound to visualize its vibrational properties, as seen here. The primary colors represent the spike’s three protein chains. (Courtesy of Markus Buehler)

Coronaviruses get their name from the crown of spikelike proteins that surround them. Now, the protein spikes of the novel coronavirus have been turned into an intriguing musical composition — one researchers hope could inspire new ways to fight the virus.

Spike proteins serve a powerful function for the novel coronavirus. They enable it to attach to human cells and then hijack them so the virus can replicate.

Think of spike proteins as special keys in search of a human lock. In the case of the novel coronavirus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, the spike protein binds to human cells’ receptor proteins called angiotensin converting enzyme 2.

While all coronaviruses rely on spike proteins to attach to human cells, SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein is particularly good at it. Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently discovered that SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein has attributes that make it attach at least 10 times more firmly to human receptor proteins than other coronaviruses.

SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein consists of three delicately folded chains of amino acids. Markus Buehler, a musician and an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has turned that complex structure into a piece of music.

Buehler and his colleagues recently invented a way to translate amino acid sequences like the ones that make up SARS-CoV-2 into sound using the virus’s genetic sequence and an algorithm that translates its amino acids and their structures and molecular vibrations into sound.

Featuring the koto, bells, flutes and other instruments, the nearly two-hour-long composition is deceptively peaceful — kind of like the virus itself.

The music “doesn’t really convey the deadly impacts this particular protein is having on the world,” Buehler writes. “The music is a metaphor for [the virus’ ability] to deceive the host and exploit it for its own multiplication.”

Perhaps it could also inspire a way to keep the protein from invading human cells — and not in the way you might think. Buehler and his colleagues think protein-generated music could be used as an alternate way to visualize the complexity of proteins, and eventually find places to target with drugs.

Listen to the composition at

Live coronavirus updates

What the structure of the coronavirus can tell us

Coronavirus is especially threatening for people with heart disease

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.