Harvard professor’s genome NFT hints at our dystopian crypto-future

NFT, but instead of an N its a D, like in DNA, and the D is represented by a genome. Wow.

Selling digital souvenirs as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) is hot right now — so hot that a genetic scientist is willing to tokenize his own DNA and sell it as a crypto-collectible.

Harvard Medical School professor and geneticist George Church says he’ll soon be auctioning off his full genome as a one-of-a-kind NFT. 

“The NFT was not my idea, but hopefully it is a good idea,” said Church in a recent interview with The Scientist.

  • NFTs are virtual tags for digital files which mark them unique and certify their provenance.
  • Holding an NFT denotes non-copyright ownership of its tagged digital file.
  • Most digital files sold as NFTs can be downloaded for free, but only the first copy is tokenized.

Church’s NFT will include a high-resolution artistic illustration of his personal genomic sequencing data and his genome.

The image will then be written to and cryptographically verified by the Ethereum blockchain as an ERC-1155 token.

The auction date is expected to be announced on National DNA Day, April 25.

Part DNA science, part conceptual art, all NFT

Church was among the first to make his medical records and genome available to the public as part of the Personal Genome Project, which he launched in 2005.

Similar to NFTs sold by conceptual artists in recent years, George’s DNA auction hinges on the notion of monetizing personal data — and what data is more personal than DNA.

[Read more: SEC likely finds MetaKovan’s Beeple-backed crypto very ‘interesting’ — here’s why]

Indeed, if tokenizing genomes and selling them as NFTs becomes a real thing — some would inevitably be more valuable than others. 

The result, however, could turn out a little dystopian. “Different genomes are going to have different inherent value,” Nebula chief exec Kamal Obbad told The Scientist.

Obbad offered the example of a rare disease patient. A pharma company could use their genome to identify what’s potentially causing that rare disease, or what a successful treatment might look like.

A completely healthy person, on the other hand, “their genome might not be as valuable,” said Obbad.

In the case of Church’s NFT, the geneticist will reportedly donate a portion of the proceeds to charity, the rest staying with Church.

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