We Got the Music in You

Maybe you always knew you had music in your heart, but 23andMe shows it’s in your genes too.

Our new lab, developed by 23andMe’s  Mark Ackerley, gives customers the opportunity to create a unique melody from their DNA.

Mark, a composer trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, developed an algorithm that sorts through bits of your genetic data to create a melody that is totally personal.

“It’s fundamentally different because we look at so many parts of an individual’s DNA, that the total possible number of melodies is very high,” Mark explains.

Others have used DNA sequences — the chain of As, Cs, Gs and Ts that make up our genetic code — to create musical arrangements. But in those cases the code mostly provids a leaping off point for a composer to write an original tune. What Mark has done is different because the melody isn’t just inspired by your DNA, like you, the melody is created by it. Creation of the tune is fully automated with every note derived from your DNA.

He did this by breaking down the essential parts of a melody — the pitch, rhythm, key and timbre of a piece of music — and then created an algorithm that uses your 23andMe data to make selections for each of those different components. He created a way to automatically arrange them so that the tool can assemble a coherent and pleasing melody each time.

“By using these guidelines we ensure we won’t get random notes or disjointed melodies,” he said.

It starts by using some of the 50 traits 23andMe reports to customers — height, for instance, or eye color — and assigning a specific rhythmic value based on your specific genotype. Rhythm is the duration of time that a note is held and provides the framework for the melody. The music lab then chooses a key using your assigned maternal haplogroup. So if your maternal haplogroup is H, for instance, it might select the key of C Major. Once the rhythm and key are determined the algorithm selects the pitches using some of the traits 23andMe reports on. Mark included guidelines to ensure that the melodies created abide by certain musical conventions while also keeping it free enough to produce plenty of variety.

Hear the music in you and create your own DNA Melody.

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Once the the melody is complete, you can pick the musical instrument that gives the melody the color or timbre (pronounced tam-bur) that most matches who you are. Mark has tried to give a selection of instruments that represent a variety of preferred sounds, so on top of guitars and pianos you can choose marimbas, or a hammer dulcimer, or steel drum to play the melody.

“We use enough variables to allow for the creation of hundreds of thousands of unique melodies,” Mark said.

For Mark this very personal soundprint — this DNA melody — brings up profound questions about music and people. In every culture since the dawn of man, music has been an integral component of life. Why is it that something that does not provide any basic necessities for survival, so strongly attached to the human experience?

For Mark the answer is simple:

“Music helps us feel connected and reminds us that there are universal qualities in humanity that we all share.”