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Decentralization is helping to shape the course of scientific research and business


cointelegraph.com 10 May 2022 15:25, UTC
Reading time: ~5 m

New technologies may have rapid, dramatic effects on society, but they may also spread slowly and subtly. Blockchain-powered decentralized science (DeSci) is taking off after some years of gestation. Its impact is being felt not only in the rarified confines of high-tech labs but more broadly in the business world as well. 

Psychedelics and longevity

Paul Kohlhaas, co-founder and CEO of Molecule — a platform for biotech DAOs founded in 2019 — spoke about pharmaceutical research and its funding on the Zima Red podcast in April. “We believe it could be way cheaper, if it was coordinated in a better way,” Kohlhaas said of pharmaceuticals research. “I think there’s this cultural and bureaucratic problem.”

Kohlhaas compared blockchain in pharma to fintech in banking. “The banking industry has only started evolving in the past 10 years in the wake of fintech, because fintech is starting to really hurt their bottom line and take away customers,” he said.

Molecule allows researchers, biotech companies and universities to combine data and intellectual property (IP) rights into IP-nonfungible tokens (IP-NFTs), thus creating a new market. The holder of an IP-NFT could solicit funding to continue research activities, or an organization can reach an agreement with the IP-NTF holder to use the data and IP for its own purposes.

Funding may also find new outlets. Kohlhaas mentioned psychedelics research in psychiatry as a priority that he embraces personally, as well as longevity. “Longevity startups are currently funded by billionaires,” he said. “But I think there's a risk there. Because if like the richest people in the world live longer and longer and get richer and richer, that will fundamentally, in the long run, create an unjust society, because wealth isn't distributed.”

Related: The crypto world should know about longevity

Research Hub is a platform for open-access research that chief operating officer Patrick Joyce compared to GitHub for scientific research. Joyce told Cointelegraph that the platform, which has the backing of Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, may eventually provide a serious incentive for open access publishing and to fund research in subjects that the National Science Foundation does not fund, such as quantum biology.

Businesses get blockchain boost

DeSci can provide an advantage in a number of commercial contexts. The crowded field of consumer genomics is an example. London-based Genomes.io offers the public 30x whole genome sequencing. This is in contrast to many more familiar brands that sequence only the genetic exome, passing over the “junk” genes that make up the vast majority of the genome and whose importance is rapidly being uncovered. “Not a week goes by without a discovery,” Genomes.io CEO and cofounder Aldo de Pape told Cointelegraph.

Genomes.io has 14 employees and is the second company de Pape and co-founder Mark Hahnel have been in together. The entrepreneurs met when they worked at MacMillan Publishers, and de Pape followed Hahnel to Figshare, a company that provides research data infrastructure to big government customers, which Hahnel launched in 2011.

In 2018, in anticipation of the gene mapping developments that have reduced the price of genetic sequencing from billions to hundreds of dollars, de Pape, Hahnel and three others founded Genomes.io. The following year, the company was accepted into the ConsenSys Ventures Tachyon 2.0 accelerator. It held an initial coin offering (ICO) in 2021.

Genomes.io sequences customers’ genomes, encrypts them and keeps them in an electronic vault. Customers can opt into receiving reports based on their genetic information, such as ancestry and rare disease carrier status, with a range of new topics planned to come.

Customers can also allow their data to be used in research queries. Query matching occurs within the data vault so that genomic data never leaves the vault. Blockchain technology provides security by recording all queries made to holders’ data in a single version of the ledger.

Holders who decide to share genomic information are rewarded with GENE, as are those who contribute to the development or design of the project through the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). GNOME is used for governance and is available on the Sushi exchange. The “Geneticats” NFT, available on OpenSea, offers genomic sequencing and hybrid GENE/GNOME benefits.

The barrier is low for participation in the DAO. “There is really lovely interest from people who wanted a closer relationship with the company,” de Pape said. Participants are rewarded bounties for contributing development and design ideas. The DAO has “no say on the Ltd. side,” which includes large-scale projects with partners in Australia, Bermuda and the United States.

Doing biometrics one better

Madrid-based DNAVerse has found another quite practical use for genomics. The company will use genetic information to confirm holders’ identities as human — as opposed to AI or chatbots — across metaverses. In conjunction with its sister organization, 3DforScience, DNAVerse creates “DNArt” NFTs that can be used comparably to avatars.

DNAVerse, according to marketing director Juan Castillo, is at the presale stage. It has eight employees and shares several more with 3DforScience. It recently partnered with Polygon Studios and has opened an embassy in the Matrix World metaverse. The company will mint 200 “cryptoprotein” NFTs and 3,200 highly customizable “DNArt” NFTs based on customers’ genetic data but not containing their data.

After the minting of all the “DNArt” NFTs, new customers will be required to select a “cryptoprotein” and “DNArt” staked on a decentralized market, with the holders receiving a percentage of the price for their participation in the replication process. Their genetic data will be delivered to customers, who remain in control of their data and have the option to remain anonymous. They will be gathered under the governance of a DAO that has yet to be formed.

There are a lot of clubby aspects to the business model. A line of clothing featuring customers’ “DNArt,” wellbeing channels and virtual events based on genetic affinities are planned. Customers can obtain “DNAat” for their pets as well.


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