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ScienceDaily (Sep. 28, 2012) — Soft horns and a tinkling piano form the backbone of “Fifty Degrees North, Four Degrees West,” a jazz number with two interesting twists: it has no composer and no actual musicians. Unless you count bacteria and other tiny microbes, that is.

Cyanobacteria (above) are abundant in the English Channel and represent an instrument in “microbial bebop,” music created using data from microbes collected in the Channel. (Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Argonne National Laboratory)

The song is the brainchild of Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Larsen, it turns out, has no musical training at all; his interests run less towards the blues and more towards blue-green algae.

When faced with an avalanche of microbial data collected from samples taken from the western English Channel, Larsen recognized he needed a way to make sense of it all. “Thinking of interesting ways to highlight interactions within data is part of my daily job,” he said. “I am always trying to find new ways to visualize those relationships in ways so that someone can make relevant biological conclusions.”

Listen to examples of microbial bebop:

In the case of the western English Channel data, however, Larsen decided that a visual representation of the data would not be as effective as one he could hear. Read more