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Nanotech, microbes and crocodile DNA get in groove
Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney  by Angus Dalton
19 Aug 2022
General News - Page 19 - 538 words - ID 1688337582 - Photo: Yes - Type: Review - Size: 309.00cm2

A chemist's project links music and science, writes Angus Dalton Psychologist Dr Caitlin Cowan spends her weekends scouting the suburbs for fresh baby poo. It's all part of the job when you're DNAsequencing microbes in infant guts to better understand the links between our microbiome and mental health.

Dedicated to her work as she may be, Cowan never expected it would one day make her dance.

Sydney artist MUNGMUNG has transformed Cowan's research into a jazzy, poppy, rap-fuelled track resplendent with falsetto runs and floral references.

Created as part of the University of Sydney's Live from the Lab project, which paired five musical artists with five groundbreaking scientists for sonic collaborations, her track Gardenhome celebrates the bacterial gardens in all of us and the importance of nurturing ourselves inside and out.

"When Caitlin was talking to me about her wonderful research, she used this really beautiful analogy that our body is like a garden," said MUNGMUNG. "You should have a variety of plants and flowers in your body to make sure that the ecosystem is just thriving."

The program was devised by chemist Associate Professor Alice Motion. Each scientist and artist she paired up joined a 90-minute Zoom call in which the scientist shared details about their research, lab work and adventures in the field.

The artists had four weeks to experiment on songs inspired by the science.

Underground vocalist Kid Fiction pictured his collaborator, physicist Professor Zdenka Kuncic, bent over her nanotechnology research by candlelight in the early hours, driven by creativity and the determination to problem-solve.

The result is The Use in Trying, a dissonant electronic track punctured by syncopated beats that builds into a wall of sound.

"I was totally blown away," Kuncic said of listening to the track. "I've done quite a lot of things in my career but this was just in a league of its own."

Associate Professor Jaime Gongora, a wildlife geneticist, was transported back to the Amazon and could "hear the harmonies of the jungle" in the track singersongwriter Ms Thandi spun from their conversation.

Gongora bolsters conservation programs by sequencing the DNA of animals such as crocodiles, platypus, the antelope-like Arabian oryx and peccaries.

"What was really standing out to me was aspects of diversity," said Ms Thandi. "What makes crocodiles so resilient ... is the diversity in their genetic make-up ... that was all really standing out."

Ms Thandi brought it all together in her R'n'B-infused track Walk in the Jungle, which brought Gongora to tears, as she croons the lyric, "Our strength is in the bloodline ... DNA built to thrive."

Garage-pop band Flowertruck said the trickiest part of creating their track, based on work by marine scientist Dr Shawna Foo, was finding something to rhyme with "sea urchin". ("Searchin"' did the trick.) Their song The Dawn Chorus assumes the perspective of a sea urchin marching south due to ocean water warmed by climate change. The urchins being out-ofplace yet resilient struck a chord with the band, said frontman Charles Rushforth.

"I can't wait to play it on an underwater radio to the urchins," Foo said after hearing Flowertruck's song.

"They'll be grooving."

Caption Text:
Heart, soul ... and guts: MUNGMUNG delivers her sciencebased song. Photo: Jayne Ion

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