A group of young entrepreneurs from the US is offering to take peoples' sequenced DNA, convert it into data, and then back it up using the cryptocurrency bitcoin to keep it safe for future genetic engineering and even cloning. It's the stuff of dystopian nightmare futures with clone armies marching around demanding bitcoin for your life.
The Genecoin service will offer users an easy-to-use DNA sampling kit which can be sent back to the startup through the mail. The firm will then perform the necessary DNA tests and then upload the genome data into a bitcoin storage network.
The creators, based in the Pacific Northwest, say that using bitcoin blockchain technology as a storage tool has great potential for the future far beyond being merely a ledger for bitcoin transactions.
"Bitcoin's core innovation is the idea of a blockchain, which is a decentralised ledger. Bitcoin isn't a currency — rather it is a protocol for writing to a blockchain, and this opens the door to lots of disruptive software innovations," Genecoin's creators — computer science graduates who currently want to remain anonymous — told IBTimes UK.
"There are so many use cases for the blockchain, and 'currency' is only the first one. People are working on all sorts of ideas: smart property, proof of existence, assurance contracts, data storage — these are all possible with bitcoin."
Storing data using Bitcoins
There are already other companies using this technique, such as Storj.io, a startup aiming to provide a super secure private cloud, but so far none focusing on genomics.
But the question is: would anyone really want to store their DNA to be used to make clones of themselves in the future, and will Bitcoin even be around for long enough to make it a reliable storage format?
"Most people think of Bitcoin as a currency but it is much more. Bitcoin stores records of transactions. Imagine if you sent Morse code messages by giving your friends money. If you're clever about it, you can encode data based on how you make those transactions," Genecoin's creators said.
"Before moving forward with the business, we want to spark discussion in [pop] culture about the service. We're not sure how many people would want it at this time. That said, venture capital has had its eye on Bitcoin this year, so we suspect it would be easy to find funding for such a service if the market exists."
Genecoin's website also suggests that in the future, people could use their own genome data to create their very own "altcoin", an alternative cryptocurrency.
Altcoins – creating your own personal brand
Besides acting as a personal brand, the more people who use the altcoin currency, the higher the progenitor's rank than other people on the internet. By spreading the altcoin amongst more people, the more likely that person's DNA will survive into the future.
"Imagine if your website's rank on Google could determine how well your genetic material gets propagated. This is the future. Genecoin helps strengthen your network fitness by giving you a master backup of your genome, alongside a strategy for hyperlinking it to your own personal altcoin," the creators explain on their website.
It might sound rather futuristic, perhaps nonsensical, but if there is a market for cryogenics, perhaps there is one for this. The creators promise that if the service becomes a reality, they will not sell your valuable DNA data to evil scientists.
"We're working on systems that would let users encrypt their genetic data in advance, so that we would never even see it. It would be impossible for us to access it or sell it to evil scientists. We suspect some people would like to have a strong record of their DNA for future societies to use," said Genecoin.
"[If it doesn't work out], hopefully we can find other disruptable verticals in the Bitcoin space. We're currently in stealth mode on other ideas that involve Bitcoin, Internet of Things, and wearable technology."