Insane in the Brain

Okay...I have been thinking for a while now about making a music and science post. And by science, I mean biological science, the field closest to us, of course. 'Cause, you know, there are a lot of relationships between music and physics, that one is kind of obvious.

Click here to listen to Eye Of The Tiger on YouTube
So, initially I was going with how music can get you prepared for a long day of experiments. My head rocking to the beat of "Eye of the Tiger" right after breakfast, then jumping on my bike instead of the car or bus, while I play “Bicycle Race” on my iPhone…you know, songs that get you energized.
But then I read this amazing story about how a couple of scientists visualized the effect of music on the chromatophores of a Longfin inshore squid. I was fascinated, so I am switching gears to that instead. Now what is a Longfin inshore squid, and more importantly, what are chromatophores?
Longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii)
The Longfin inshore squid is a species of squid that lives in the North Atlantic, from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Venezuela, reaching up to 50 cm in length. This species is a model organism in neuroscience and was used by Andrew Huxley and Alan Hodgkin in their studies on neuronal axons. The two researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1963 for their experimental and mathematical work on the basis of nerve action potentials. Like many types of squids, the longfins can manipulate their color so they can blend in with the environment. They do this through the chromatophores, which are pigment-bearing cells found in cold-blooded vertebrates and cephalopods.

Andrew Huxley. Nobel Prize 1963.

Alan Hodgkin. Nobel Prize 1963.
Hodgkin-Huxley model that describes how action potentials in neurons are initiated and propagated through the cell membrane. The voltage (in millivolts) is graphed over 50 milliseconds. The current varies from -5 nanoamps to 12 nanoamps.
So how does neuroscience, chromatophores and music come together? It was in the hands of the guys from Backyard Brains and their collaborators from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. They used an iPod, which plays music by converting the digital files to a small current that it is sent to tiny magnets in the ear buds. The magnets are connected to cones that vibrate and produce the sound.
Since this is the same electrical current that neurons use to communicate, they cut off the ear buds and connected the wires into the squid’s fin nerve. When the iPod sends bass frequencies (<100Hz), the axons in the nerves have enough charge to fire an action potential. This will, in turn, cause the muscles in the chromatophores to contract and change color. So, click on the picture to see the video in YouTube. The chromatophores change color to the beat of "Insane In The Brain" by Cypress Hill. Enjoy!

“Insane in the Chromatophores” 

We will try to come back with more on music and science. We love music, and there is really no need to find a reason to bring music into our experiments. If you have a cool story you want to share with us, or just tell us what kind of music you like to play out loud when doing a tedious or difficult experiment, just let us know: I will tell you my list in exchange.
In the meantime, you can read a whole issue of Nature dedicated to Science and Music, or explore these cool videos, created by musician John Boswell for his project Symphony of Science. Also, BioLegend has its own house band, The LEGENDeers, writing songs about biology and more. Check out their music!

Contributed by Miguel Tam, PhD 
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