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PhD Student Successfully Hacks a DNA Strand, Promptly Wins a Bitcoin

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:03 PM
Jack Choros
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:03 PM

University of Antwerp student Sander Wuyts has reason to celebrate. He is the proud new owner of a full Bitcoin after deciphering a code hidden  in strands of DNA.

British professor Nick Goldman laid out a challenge to scientists at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The challenge was for a scientist to uncover information embedded inside strands of DNA that would provide the winner with instructions on how to claim one full Bitcoin.

Although the challenge has now come to a conclusion after three full years, Wuyts only began participating in the project at the end of 2017. He used DNA sequencers and organized a small group of his colleagues to participate in a hackathon.

A short time later they had cracked the code revealing the logo of the European Bioinformatics Institute, a picture of James Joyce, and instructions on how to claim the grand prize.

More On DNA and Data Storage

Professor Goldman maintains that a very large amount of data can be held within a very small sequence of DNA. How much data you ask? Approximately 215 million gigabytes  in just one gram of DNA. While it sounds too good to be true, the earliest known research done on DNA and data storage first took place way back in the mid-1960s when scientist Mikhail Neiman published his earliest ideas.

Fast-forward to 2007. Researchers at the University of Arizona create a device that can detect mismatching sites within a single strand of DNA. These mismatches could be used to uncover embedded data.

Five years later, researchers at Harvard University  uncovered JavaScript coding and Shakespearean sonnets among other information hidden in strands of DNA.

To HODL, Or Not To HODL?

Wuyts hasn’t decided what he’ll do with his reward just yet. Nobody should blame him given how volatile the price of Bitcoin has been to start 2018.

For now, Wuyts says he’ll use some of his earnings to celebrate with his colleagues and saved some of it to fund further research. While pessimistic at first, Wuyts now believes in DNA as a viable option for storing data in the future.

What’s Next?

While storing data in DNA is certainly promising, a modern day hard drive is still light years ahead of what scientists can decode. Only a few hundred bytes  of information per second can be uncovered using today’s scientific technologies while the average hard drive can process millions of bytes in the same time span.

On the flipside, the one advantage of storing data within DNA as opposed to on a hard drive is that DNA can withstand an estimated 2,000 years of archival decay , where hard drive usually gets thrown away after a few years.

Either way, it sounds like programmers may be building blockchains on nature’s ultimate blockchain someday. Good old fashioned deoxyribonucleic acid.

Featured image from Shutterstock.