Intel Sees Role for ‘Blockchain Mining’ in Genetic Sequencing

A new patent application from Intel indicates suggests that the tech giant is looking at a unique way to utilize the energy expended during cryptocurency mining: the sequencing of genetic data.

In the patent application, first filed June 2016 and released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, inventors Ned Smith and Rajesh Poornachandran describe a type of computer called a sequence mining platform (SMP) which would identify the order or nucleobases in a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA).

Nucleobases are the molecules that make up DNA and RNA, which contain the genetic information within every living organism on the planet. The order of these bases determines what physical traits a person, plant or animal features.

The patent application notes that the SMP would use a nucleobase sequencing unit to actually establish the order of nucleobases in a given sample, which would then be verified by the blockchain before being permanently recorded on it.

As the filing explains:

“The present disclosure introduces methods and apparatuses for accomplishing additional useful work in conjunction with blockchain mining. In particular, as described in greater detail below, the present disclosure introduces methods and apparatuses for using data processing power of a data processing system to determine a sequence of nucleobases in a nucleic acid, and for then using the determined sequence of nucleobases as the basis for a [proof-of-work] for a new block for a blockchain.”

The combination of blockchain tech and genetic sequencing isn’t exactly new, and cryptocurrency projects like genecoin have highlighted how the energy-intensive mining process (by which new transactions are added to a blockchain, with new coins being minted as a reward) can be applied for scientific purposes.

According to Intel’s application, proof-of-work algorithms “make it impractical for an attacker or group of attackers to corrupt or hijack the blockchain.”

However, unlike POW systems found in the bitcoin blockchain, the one mentioned in Intel’s proposed design would be multipurpose, as they would result in new blocks while simultaneously determining the genetic sequence from the data provided.

The POW algorithm would, therefore, be used to both identify the sequence and subsequently verify it, according to the application, and the sequence recorded on one block would be used as a base for the POW problems in the next block.

Intel chip image via Nor Gal / Shutterstock

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