Blockchains have been around for about 10 years, in the form that we know today – namely cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum or Steem. Although they’re part of our lives for a relatively short amount of time, as they are growing in popularity, so does the requirements for their storage space. Remember, a blockchain is a distributed ledger, which works only if all the participants at the block production process have the same version of it. In other words, they all need to have identical pieces of data, readily available for writing and reading, and provable to be consistent across the entire population of actors.
For Bitcoin, this is already proving difficult: operating a full node is not a storage-friendly task. And if we go to Steem, things are getting even more complicated, as the entire ledger is more than 220 GB at the moment of writing, and growing every day.
Now, I will take a short break and read the line above a few more times. As a matter of fact, I will read that DNA-related thing many, many more times, because, believe me, this is probably the most mind boggling thing I’ve ever come across, since I’m on this world. And I’ve been through a lot of stuff, believe me. I know how a disk phone works, for instance… Yes, I am that old.
Storing Digital Information On DNA
If you don’t know what DNA is, here’s a simplified definition: DNA is a biological blueprint for cell creation, and it’s made of 4 types of molecules, Cytosine [C], Guanine [G], Adenine [A] and Thymine [T]. The way these C, G, A and T are tied together in the helicoidal structure of that blueprint is determining the base characteristics of the biological organism.
Since its initial sequencing (or breaking it apart in recognizable CGTA structures) at the end of last century, DNA, as a biotechnology, has come a long way.
Now, not only sequencing is possible, but also synthesizing. In other words, if you have a structure of CGTA, written in a file, you can now “print” the biological collection of cells (which will most likely be just a protein “soup”) that will have that DNA structure. And when you want to retrieve the data stored in the soup, you will just sequence it back.
This is big.
The most spectacular applications of this technology are obviously in the health sector: printing vaccines on demand or making personalized medicines based on individual DNA. That alone will probably revolutionize the human life on Earth in ways we can barely imagine now.
But there is another way to use this technology: storing digital information.
Exactly. Using that “protein soup” to store sequences of “0” and “1”. For the nerds reading this, you can just use a binary notation like this: 00 = C, 01 = G, 10 = T, 11 = A. You can encode using this notation pretty much everything you want.
And here comes the juicy part: the physical space required to store all the movies on Earth using DNA will be just a few ounces of “soup”. Yes, that small.
This is huge.
Storing The Blockchain On DNA
Now, let’s not get too excited because there are still some pitfalls. Here are two of the most important:
- currently, sequencing a DNA destroys the biological support, so in order to “read” the data stored we have to destroy the support. This may be mitigated by having multiple copies around, but it’s still “annoying”
- synthesizing DNA from a digital file (“printing” the soup) requires about one – two days (based on the information at the end of the article) which is obviously way too much for a real time blockchain.
But these problems may be solved way sooner than we think. Based on the previous speed of the advancements, we’re talking probably years, not dozens of years. So, if we’re lucky enough to still be around for 5 more years, we may witness this revolution.
Here are some things that may dramatically change the way we understand blockchains, DNA storage and information (from news to money):
- Storing blockchain data in DNA structures will virtually make everybody a “miner” (or a “witness”, or a “block producer”). I can see a not-so-distant reality in which we will all have our “bottles” of data somewhere in our offices, filled with on-demand printed “soups” in which we store ledgers for the blockchains we’re participating into.
- Authentication will be mostly DNA related, and virtually unforgeable. Public / private key encryption will pair cryptography verified concepts with organic interaction. You could sign a transaction by just touching a sensor (or gently spitting on it – sorry, I couldn’t refrain myself). Your public keys will be derived from your base DNA sequence and your private key will be, well, just you…
- PoS / DPoS blockchains will melt into social and political structures that will overwrite current political organizations. Voting instantly with your DNA will make these societies way more fluid and at the same time more stable. To the point that we will consider current democracies, with a 4 years voting period, pre-historical.
There are more, but I will stop here. I think that’s enough to give us some food for thought for a lot of time.
Further reading / watching: