Musical fragments, earworms, and hooks

Last Wednesday was a big day for science-based music at the University of Washington.

As the keynote speaker for NWABR’s 2013 Student Bio Expo, I led hundreds of high school students in a sing-along about Okazaki fragments. I then spent the rest of the morning at the students’ presentations of their expo projects, some of which included music. It was a great opportunity to talk directly with the students about their work. For example, I wasn’t sure whether the music video “Transgenic Salmon Shop” was intended as a celebration or an indictment of the farming of genetically engineered fish, so it was fun to chat with the video’s creators about this issue.

Congratulations to all of the expo participants and especially to the music-category winners: Craig Simpson of Shorecrest High School (1st place for “The disharmony of bipolar disorder”); Miriam Berman of Snohomish High School (2nd place for “Transgenic aminals: how genetic manipulation can change our lives for the better”); Luke Schilperoort and Andrew Kynos of Eastside Catholic High School (3rd place for “Parkinson’s Disease: Even ‘The Greatest’ can have it”); Eli Cohen of Mercer Island High School (honorable mention for “The concept of flow”); and Thomas Christensen, Robert Johnson, and Alex Stamey of Ballard High School (winner of the People’s Choice award for “Factor V Leiden”).

In the afternoon, UW medical students presented songs they had written to summarize recent parasitology lectures. Some of these were also quite good, from a parody of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” (“Giardia in the U.S.A.”) to a rap called “How’d the Hook [as in hookworms] Get in Me?”

Among the many songs I heard that day, the offering of the final medical student group, The Anastomoses, was uniquely captivating. Their song was “Worms in All the People,” a parody of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” complete with harmony vocals and a live string quartet. The lyrics cleverly review several maladies caused by parasitic worms, from Eleanor Rigby’s enterocolitis to Baby McKenzie’s pruritis ani. For me, though, the cello, violins, and viola gave the performance a musicality that transcended the medical details. I could only marvel in admiration.

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