Molecular Mimicry was composed in 2013 by Jeremy Clay as part of BCMG's Resolution project funded by the Wellcome Trust, and is scored for flexible ensemble of any number of players from beginner upwards.The piece draws its inspiration from the study of the biological process of molecular mimicry and its hypothesised role in the process of developing auto-immune disease. The score uses both traditional and graphic notation and requires a conductor/leader.
The Resolution project brought together composers and biomedical scientists from the University of Birmingham's Rheumatology Research Group, part of the Centre for Translational Inflammation Research based in Queen Elizabeth Hospital to work with young people to create new music around the theme of auto-immune disease. Funded by a Wellcome Trust, Small Arts Award, the project ran in three secondary schools: Turves Green Girls School and King Edward VI Handsworth Girls School in Birmingham and Light Hall School, Solihull. The project was led by composers Fraser Trainer, Liz Johnson, Jackie Walduck, Jeremy Clay, Joanna Lee and Ruta Vitkauskaite and scientists Beth Clay, Rachel Bayley and Hannah Hope, Education Officer at the British Society for Immunology. The project culminated in an evening of music and science on 22 March 2013 which included the music composed by and for the young people. You can listen to recordings of the music on our main website. As part of the project three new pieces were composed for the young people to perform:
The scores are free to download from the links below. If you perform any of the pieces, please let us know. If you have any questions regarding performing the pieces or about any other aspect of the project please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Molecular Mimicry’ is a term that describes the process of the body’s immune system mis-recognising its own antigens (particular proteins which live on the surface of cells) for those of a foreign pathogen and, attacking itself. It is hypothesized that Molcecular Mimicry is involved in the process of the body developing the auto-immune disease Sjögrens Syndrome. The different elements behind this theory are directly related to different musical ideas within the piece. A particular bacteria suspected to be a trigger for this process is Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), the oral bacterium which causes bad breath.
The piece begins with a ‘bacterial soup’ representing the many bacteria living in the mouth. Slowly a melody emerges - the musical form of P. gingivalis:
P. gingivalis is a bacteria which presents antigens that look very similar to other antigens presented by the body’s own cells. In the music this is shown by performers harmonising with the P. gingivalis melody. The rhythms are the same, but the pitches are different. This bacteria, or pathogen, is very similar in appearance to some of the body’s own cells. In the music this is represented by rhythmically similar harmonies.
The immune system tries to fight P. gingivalis, but because the bacteria look so similar to some of the body’s own cells, it ends up attacking itself. This is the process of Molecular Mimicry. When the body attacks itself, it is described as autoimmunity. In Molecular Mimicry, autoantigen cells present their antigens to T-cells using a ‘lock-and-key’ mechanism.
You can see the T-cells lock and key mechanism in the video below:
The music depicts this as a rhythm which locks into the rhythm of the P. gingivalis melody:
The music swells until the T-cells trigger an immune response – an alarm. The ensemble reacts by setting off alarm signals – a strong and frantic rhythmic response. The body begins to attack itself, mis-recognising itself. In Sjögrens Syndrome this takes a number of forms, one of which is that the tear ducts and mouth dry up, shown in the music by the change from loud resonant sounds into high pitched dry, scratchy sounds.
In addition to narrating the process of Molecular Mimicry, the piece captures an element of the ways in which scientists have to work. This is done by linking in to the idea of ‘fishing’ to find which bacteria could be linked to Sjögren’s Syndrome. It is fascinating that science with its reputation for exactness, is also groping in the dark, much like art! This process is shown musically in the first section of the piece where different musical ‘bacteria’ are present, and then one particular bacteria is fished out.
The score is open and free to interpretation. The performers can be as creative as they wish with the given material.
Sections followed by large black arrows are to be repeated ad lib.
Durations of sections are flexible, however a likely duration for the whole piece is 2 to 3 minutes.
It is possible to perform the piece using the video to the right to enhance the performance. The video can be paused during each section and helps to show the progression of the narrative.
Video and Recording