The Stack Archive

Why yes, you can have your DNA stored as Bitcoin data

Wed 12 Nov 2014

There’s tremendous marginal and fringe interest in the possibilities of the ‘blockchain’ technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. blockchain is a distributed consensus system in which the entire network authenticates transactions. The transactions do not have to be financial; they could as easily form part of new systems for blockchain-based email systems, secure online voting, authoritative time-stamping for online content or contract development.

Quite why you would want to have your DNA converted into Bitcoin-style blockchain data isn’t immediately clear, even when you visit the FAQ of Genecoin, the company that has come up with the idea.

We are told: “We’re helping humans transition into the era of all-data-everything and network fitness. Plants evolved such that their seeds could stick to bird wings. As birds fly, they carry plant genetic material to uncharted foreign land. Similarly, our crawlers will spread your genetic material to foreign blockchains all across the globe. Genecoin is inventing new birds for the decentralized digital era.”

Some of the supporting statements from presumably happy customers are difficult to take seriously, such as “I got my son’s genome encoded but never knew what to do with it.”

The company seems to be testing demand, if any, but in any case offers to send round a spit-receptacle which will then be forwarded to a DNA sequencing provider, who will provide you with a digital version of your genome. Though no mention of costs emerges in the fledgeling service’s promotional materials, that part of the process is likely to set you back about $5000 (£3159).

At this point you may choose to encrypt what must be the most personal information you have, but that won’t impede Genecoin from uploading your very essence into the Bitcoin ecostructure. As part of the service, it will also seek out alternative and complementary blockchains to store your strung-out DNA. For initial propagation the company is committed to using the most popular blockchain proponent for its customers, and at the moment that’s Bitcoin.

Genecoin’s 2 bits-per-base encoding will take the 3gb of data you consist of down to a slightly more manageable 750mb or less, and only the sequences that distinguish you from other people and life-forms need be stored (though you can upload the whole lot if you prefer).

Genecoin is only using the Bitcoin protocol as an abstraction layer, and claims “Our aim is to turn Genecoin into a Decentralized Autonomous Organization that preserves your genetic material indefinitely”. Participants, for some reason, are actively encouraged to use their own uploaded genome as an altcoin currency: “Once you’re in with Genecoin, we recommend that you use your genome as seed data to create your own altcoin. Services will soon let people create their own alternative cryptocurrencies with a single click of a mouse. Altcoins will function like apps or even just personal brands. In the near future, every person will have their own altcoin and small community using it. With Genecoin, your personal brand can become a mechanism for propagating your genetic material.”

Besides the possibility of being reincarnated from your own stored DNA at some point in the future, it’s suggested that Genecoin’s online DNA impression could eventually be the basis for a crypto-passport.

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