December 15, 2017 11:57 PM
A document recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office reveals Intel’s vision for a system that would issue digital assets to miners who apply their computer processing power to DNA and RNA research.
In June of 2016, the Intel Corporation applied to patent a type of platform that it describes as a “Blockchain System with Nucleobase Sequencing as Proof of Work.” The application was recently published, on December 14, 2017.
In short, the technology would aim to offset some of the inefficiencies in Proof of Work (PoW) cryptocurrency mining (for which blockchains, such as Bitcoin, have become notorious of late), by having miners process data related to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences rather than solving arbitrary cryptographic problems that exist for the sole purpose of verifying the authenticity of the recent transaction history on a blockchain.
Put another way, rather than simply consuming electricity to facilitate the minting of tokens, miners on the proposed platform would expend their processing power both in the hopes of receiving newly created digital assets and for the purpose of performing DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) research. The application’s authors characterize this schema’s consensus mechanism as “multipurpose POW,” because it requires miners to “accomplish additional useful work while generating proofs of work.”
The system is reliant on at least one “sequence mining platform,” which is comprised in part by “at least one machine-accessible storage medium.” This instrument would contain a “sequence manager [which would be] configured to use processing resources to determine a sequence of nucleobases in a nucleic acid.” The medium of storage would also comprise a “sequence mining module,” the purpose of which would be to “create a POW for” new blocks.
At least one embodiment of the sequence mining module would also play a role in token issuance by controlling the sequence mining platform “to receive transaction rewards and sequencing rewards.” Miners could choose to donate the proceeds of their work to DNA research.
A sequence mining platform would also include a “genome sequencing unit” that would “discover the order of the bases in the [DNA or RNA] sample” that would have to be sequenced in order for the next block to be verified. Different embodiments of the technology incorporate “different types of sequencers,” namely “electrophoresis, optical technologies, or any other suitable approach to discover the order of the bases in the sample.”
Additionally, the system in question would contain a “nucleobase sequencing unit” which would “introduce at least one secret error into a determined nucleobase sequence.” Then, a “verification module” contained within a “sequence verifying platform” would confirm that the work in question was actually performed. It would do this by detecting the “secret errors in” discovered nucleobase sequences; rejecting discovered nucleobase sequences “without secret errors;” and granting “sequencing rewards only to [sequence mining platforms] who provided [discovered nucleobase sequences] with secret errors.”
In order to generate the PoW for a new block, at least some of the system’s possible configurations would utilize a “blockchain manager,” which would be among the constituent parts of a sequence mining platform. This blockchain manager would “compute a cryptographic hash” of a given “nucleic acid sequence” and “use” it as PoW before transmitting the attendant “new block … to the other nodes in [the] blockchain system.” Then, the other miners would be able to “verify the sequence by sequencing a segment that includes the same locations [on the gene in question] or finding a previously sequenced value which, when hashed, matches the POW value.”
Notably, one function of the sequence-verifying platform would be to “determine whether a first discovered nucleobase sequence … from a first sequence mining platform … and a second [discovered nucleobase sequence] from a second [sequence mining platform] include matching segments; and in response to a determination that the first and second [discovered nucleobase sequences] include matching segments, grant sequencing rewards to the first and second” sequence mining platforms. It would seemingly follow that, while this system may offer to make the establishment of PoW consensus somewhat more energy efficient, all the work that non-discovering miners had performed since the minting of the current block would go to waste once the next block was generated.
In addition to Intel, several other organizations have sought to position themselves at the nexus of blockchain technology and biology. The Folding@Home project uses spare computing power in a distributed network to research protein folding. On its website, the firm Genecoin explains that it “samples your DNA, turns it into data, and stores it in … the Bitcoin network.” And then there’s the Jerusalem-based DNA.bits, which touts itself as using “permissioned Block Chain platforms to solve problems related to Big Data, HIPAA, and de-identified continuous sharing of genetic and correlated clinical data.”
Adam Reese is a Los Angeles-based writer interested in technology, domestic and international politics, social issues, infrastructure and the arts. Adam is a full-time staff writer for ETHNews and holds value in Ether and BTC.
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