Navigation Links
Researchers link patterns seen in spider silk, melodies

Using a new mathematical methodology, researchers at MIT have created a scientifically rigorous analogy that shows the similarities between the physical structure of spider silk and the sonic structure of a melody, proving that the structure of each relates to its function in an equivalent way.

The step-by-step comparison begins with the primary building blocks of each item an amino acid and a sound wave and moves up to the level of a beta sheet nanocomposite (the secondary structure of a protein consisting of repeated hierarchical patterns of protein assemblages) and a musical riff (a repeated pattern of notes or chords). The study explains that structural patterns are directly related to the functional properties of lightweight strength in the spider silk and, in the riff, sonic tension that creates an emotional response in the listener.

While the comparison of spider silk and musical composition may appear to be more novelty than breakthrough, the methodology behind it represents a new approach to the comparison of research findings in disparate scientific fields. Such analogies could help engineers develop materials that make use of the repeating patterns of simple building blocks found in many biological materials that, like spider silk, are lightweight yet extremely failure-resistant. The work also suggests that engineers may be able to gain new insights into biological systems through the study of the structure-function relationships found in music and other art forms.

The MIT researchers David Spivak, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Mathematics, Associate Professor Markus Buehler of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and CEE graduate student Tristan Giesa published their findings in the December issue of BioNanoScience.

They created the analogy using ontology logs, or "ologs," a concept introduced about a year ago by Spivak, who specializes in a branch of mathematics called category theory. Ologs provide an abstract means for categorizing the general properties of a system be it a material, mathematical concept or phenomenon and showing inherent relationships between function and structure.

To build the ologs, the researchers used information from Buehler's previous studies of the nanostructure of spider silk and other biological materials.

"There is mounting evidence that similar patterns of material features at the nanoscale, such as clusters of hydrogen bonds or hierarchical structures, govern the behavior of materials in the natural environment, yet we couldn't mathematically show the analogy between different materials," Buehler says. "The olog lets us compile information about how materials function in a mathematically rigorous way and identify those patterns that are universal to a very broad class of materials. Its potential for engineering the built environment in the design of new materials, structures or infrastructure is immense."

At first glance, an olog may look deceptively simple, much like a corporate organizational chart that shows reporting relationships using directional arrows. But ologs demand scientific rigor to break a system down into its most basic structural building blocks, define the functional properties of the building blocks themselves with respect to one another, show how function emerges through the building blocks' interactions, and do this in a self-consistent manner. With this structure, two or more systems can be formally compared.

"The fact that a spider's thread is robust enough to avoid catastrophic failure even when a defect is present can be explained by the very distinct material makeup of spider silk fibers," Giesa says. "It's exciting to see that music theoreticians observed the same phenomenon in their field, probably without any knowledge of the concept of damage tolerance in materials. Deleting single chords from a harmonic sequence often has only a minor effect on the harmonic quality of the whole sequence."

"The seemingly incredible gap between spider silk and music is no wider than the gap between the two disparate mathematical fields of geometry think of triangles and spheres and algebra, which uses variables and equations," Spivak says. "Yet category theory's first success in the 1940s was to express a rigorous mathematical analogy between these two domains and to use it to prove new theorems about complex geometric shapes by importing existing theorems from algebra. It remains to be seen whether our olog will yield such striking results; however, the foundation for such an inquiry is now in place."

Contact: Denise Brehm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Related biology news :

1. Salk researchers develop safe way to repair sickle cell disease genes
2. Researchers find best routes to self-assembling 3-D shapes
3. Researchers assess radioactivity released to the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear facility
4. Researchers reveal SBP8a configurations
5. Winning early-career researchers excel in entrepreneurship
6. Fraunhofer researchers receive the Franco-German Business Award 2011
7. Marine predators in trouble: UBC researchers
8. Researchers at GIS develop systematic approach for accurate DNA sequence reconstruction
9. 2 top biological imaging centers offer powerful free online tool to researchers and public
10. Adult stem cells use special pathways to repair damaged muscle, MU researchers find
11. Medical researchers in Canada and the US discover hidden side of prion diseases
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Researchers link patterns seen in spider silk, melodies
(Date:6/27/2016)... 2016 Research and Markets has announced the ... report to their offering. The ... to grow at a CAGR of 12.28% during the period ... an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. The report ... years. The report also includes a discussion of the key vendors ...
(Date:6/22/2016)... 2016  The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics ... as one of the fastest-growing trade shows during the ... Bellagio in Las Vegas . ... growth in each of the following categories: net square feet ... of attendees. The 2015 ACMG Annual Meeting was ranked 23 ...
(Date:6/22/2016)... , June 22, 2016   ... management and verification solutions, has partnered with ... software solutions for Visitor Management, Self-Service Kiosks ... provides products that add functional enhancements to ... provides corporations and venues with an automated ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)...   Ginkgo Bioworks , a leading organism ... today awarded as one of the World Economic ... most innovative companies. Ginkgo Bioworks is engineering biology ... world in the nutrition, health and consumer goods ... customers including Fortune 500 companies to design microbes ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... DIEGO , June 24, 2016 ... more sensitively detects cancers susceptible to PARP inhibitors ... circulating tumor cells (CTCs). The new test has ... HRD-targeted therapeutics in multiple cancer types. ... targeting DNA damage response pathways, including PARP, ATM, ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in ... peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new article on ... biomarkers are signposts in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma patients that ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... UAS LifeSciences, one of ... their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into Target stores nationwide. The company, which has been ... Target to its list of well-respected retailers. This list includes such fine stores ...
Breaking Biology Technology: