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December 12, 2017
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DNA double helix. Source: forbes.com.

"I can't wait to hear what my face sounds like!" - was my first thought when I heard about the new app coming from the University of Western Australia. After impressing the public five years ago with garments made from the bacterial fermentation of wine and beer, director Gary Cass and his team of 'crazy scientists' - as they define themselves - are back with the iDNAtity audio, an amusing and instructive app capable of converting user's unique genetic code into music.

Phenotype Profiling from
the iDNAtity Audio app.
Source:itunes.apple.com.

The iDNAtity audio, which can be purchased in the Apple App Store for USD$0.99, will create your unique tune in a few simple steps. After opening the app and clicking on "New Audio", users are instructed to upload their photo or take a new shot. Once the exclusive iDNAtity scanner has scanned your face, get ready to answer a questionnaire about your physical traits, known as your phenotype.

The questions will not only concern your skin, hair and eye colour, but also your inherited traits, such as cheek dimples or maybe the prominent shape of your hairline. Every part of your genetic code, or genotype, is thus mapped and converted into music, which can be played with the range of instruments that you like the most: from echoes and drums, to the guitar and relaxing sounds of the ocean. Your individual DNA audio is thus ready to be saved on your device as a ringtone or shared on social networks. Simple.

The Australian scientists from the Floreat Campus are not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to scientific matters, or even when blurring the line between art and science in their work. "Sometimes it's hard to visualise the random letters of DNA code for our genes. So if you think of DNA as a code of life and notes as a code of music, then an imaginative arbitrary conversion can be applied to convert DNA into music and perhaps provoke a better comprehension that way," explains Gary Cass when speaking with The Genteel.

To see how our genetic features can become music on our iPhones, it is necessary to understand the scientific theory behind the new project. Our specific physical features are established thanks to the genes we inherit in our DNA. All the information we need to live and reproduce is stored in the DNA as a code, made up of four chemical bases known as nucleotides: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). These four letters spell out the genetic code used by scientists to create music.

Related: The Science Behind The Shoes Made From Stingrays

As Cass explains, "the principle we have applied to our experiment is that the letters A-G-C-T are the codes of life, just like notes are codes for music." Cass could also match the letters GAG or CCT, though - there are among 64 possible combinations in total, thus providing a wide and intriguing combination of sounds for users to enjoy.

The principle we have applied to our experiment is that the letters A-G-C-T are the codes of life, just like notes are codes for music.

According to the theoretical tables studied in the laboratory by the scientists, each codon [group of nucleotides/letters] is encoded with a specific note. By assigning all of the codons to musical notes and putting these letters together into a collective group, a tune can thus be composed. This tune has come directly from of our DNA, and is composed by our specific genetic features.

"We have been working on the idea of converting DNA into music for several years and in many different forms trying to give the iDNAtity audio app an educational purpose, in a fun way", adds Cass. "With the popularity of iPads in the education sector and the familiarity of apps with our younger generations, apps seem like an excellent tool to introduce complex topics, like the DNA sciences. Our target audience is students associated with educational and research institutions around the world and people who want to hear what their DNA sounds like. I suppose anyone with DNA."

Although the iDNAtity audio has tried to remain as scientifically accurate as possible in its conversion of DNA into music, one may raise some questions about its reliability. As Cass notes, "I always laugh at some comments from the conspiracy theorists who think that the iDNAtity audio app is somehow capable of extracting a biological piece of them and storing their DNA information into a database [to be] used as a biological weapon against them!"

He continues, "I can assure this app is 100% safe to use and our trusted crazy scientists will not violate any personal data. The DNA code that is shown on the Genotype Profile page of the app is anyway just a fraction of the DNA code that would be required to give the users their complete phenotypic profile."

Related: Garments Made From The Bacterial Fermentation of Wine and Beer.

So far the use of the iDNAtity audio as an educational tool has given positive results, having been largely accepted and enjoyed by numerous students and teachers worldwide. This shows that the Australian scientists' cross-disciplinary projects, including the fermented wine dresses, are a winning viable for increasing and emphasising the combination of creativity and science in school.

dna coding iphone app

DNA coding from the iDNAtity Audio app.
Source:digitaltrends.com.

In fact, since its launch on 1st August during Australia's National Science Week, explains Cass, the iDNAtity audio has ranked number one in the educational category in many countries around the world, from Thailand to Trinidad and Tobago to Paraguay.

The app is most popular in Sweden, notes Cass, with number one ranking status in the 'education category' of iTunes and number three in 'all paid apps'. As he remarks, "this is still a mystery to us. We know that most of the Swedish downloads went onto iPhones, which shows adults and not kids were downloading the app, and we assume they were just looking at it for the fun novelty. If we knew exactly why, we would bottle it and do the same thing in all other countries."

Even though the app's outcomes have still to be improved, there might be a future for iDNAtity audio in the smart-phone era. Soon available on the Android market as well, the DNA music could be used to individualise smart-phone ring tones. That's not all. According to Cass' team, the iDNAtity app will not just be used in the form of musical outputs but may evolve into other forms.

It could be a promotional vehicle for multinational biotech companies to advertise customised products. The scientists are already working on the next version of iDNAtity that will convert the users DNA into a fashionable textile pattern. In a short time period this could be a revolutionary trend where your nose traits and curly blonde hair will be able to define your perfect outfit.

Related: How Much Pull do Digital Apps Actually Have in Our Real World Experiences? 

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