The battle for supremacy between bacteria and antibiotics normally goes unseen, either behind closed doors in the laboratory or concealed deep within the human body.
But now that complex contest is being translated into music thanks to a performance in which the worlds of art and science will combine to striking effect.
Artibiotics is the brainchild of Professor Eduardo Miranda, Director of the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, which takes place at the University of Plymouth from March 2-4, 2018.
In it bacteria and antibiotics are presented as sound, and the performance will chart their quest to respectively damage and defend the DNA of their host.
The project was commissioned by research company Biofaction and Professor Miranda spent a period as artist in residence of the Synpeptide project, working alongside scientists at the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene in Regensburg, Germany.
A €7million project funded by the European Commission, Synpeptide is an antibiotics project that seeks to find novel synthetic ways to help fight pathogenic strains with multiple resistance.
Professor Miranda, also Director of the University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), said: “With a global rise in resistance, developing new antibiotics is one of the key scientific challenges of our time. But the world of synthetic biology currently has something of a negative image – and perhaps the arts can help to break that. Through my work – which I call artificial biology – I hope to enable people to see a different aspect of what synthetic biology can offer while giving them access to a process they would never normally have the chance to see.”
To create the piece, Professor Miranda observed the work carried out by scientists in Regensburg and then examined the data generated by their research.
He then devised a means to transform all those factors into sound, taking real DNA information from antibiotic peptides and transforming them into a series of short musical pieces.
However, the precise final make-up of the piece – which will be performed with percussion group Ensemble Bash – is the subject of a public vote, meaning there is an element of mystery for all involved about precisely how it will sound.
Biofaction is a company based in Vienna, Austria, which conducts research and provides consultancy in emerging biotechnologies, art and science collaboration, and public communication of science.
Its Director, Dr Markus Schmidt, will launch the festival and said: “The great minds of the Renaissance were artists, scientists and engineers all at once. In modern times, however, as the body of knowledge grew it was necessary to specialize on certain subjects, until hardly anybody was able to connect the dots, see the bigger picture, and move between different thematic subjects. This is why we see the collaboration between artists and scientists as important, namely to re-establish connections between apparently diverging fields in order to trigger ideas, findings and methods that neither of the involved disciplines would have ever been able to invent themselves.”