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Charting The Blockchain of DNA

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David Koepsell has been examining the future of genomic data for nearly a decade. An academic philosopher, entrepreneur, and retired attorney, Koepsell keeps his fingers in the world of science, technology, ethics, and public policy.

He is also the author of Who Owns You, now in its second edition, a widely acclaimed look at the philosophical and legal problems associated with patenting human genes.

Koepsell and his long-time collaborator and partner, Dr. Vanessa Gonzalez — launched a blockchain-centric startup called EncrypGen, which provides next-generation software for genomic data. In the interview below, Koepsell elaborates on the exciting advancements taking place in the genomic world and how blockchain will likely play a part in it.

David Koepsell

David Koepsell 

Tell us a little about your path from philosophy into the genomics world and how you discovered blockchain?

I was actually a lawyer, finishing my Ph.D. in Philosophy while practicing law. The combination of philosophy and law got me engaged and interested in two main subfields: ontology and ethics. I also became interested in patents and copyrights, and when I met my wife, who is a genomic scientist, I started reading about genomics. We were interested in solving issues relating to privacy and genetic data, as well as making it more available for science. This led us to the idea of combining genomics with blockchain tech. I found seed money and founded EncrypGen, and hired a developer to get a prototype made. Two years later, we launched the Gene-Chain.

How do you see the worlds of blockchain and genomics intersecting?

Genomics holds great promise in the field of healthcare. The future of medicine, we believe, has tremendous potential for greater efficiencies through targeted treatments, much of which will depend on knowing more about a patient’s genes. Blockchain allows us to do a number of things that are helping this become a reality: share and secure data through encryption, track the use of genetic data, and even subsidize or recompense subjects in studies for their contributions to science while bringing them into the process as curators of their own data.

With respect to this, where do you think Blockchain is in its evolution?

Blockchains have not been sufficiently tapped for their great potential as ledgers in fields other than finance, although many have noted this, and some are trying. We think one obvious first application is in science, where the provenance of data is critical, and in genomics and health, where that provenance and curation by patients could help bring about better health care as well.

Are there other value propositions that blockchain can deliver?

While blockchains are noted for their transparency, they are also a means by which additional privacy and security can be achieved while allowing for transfers of data over networks. Because they create immutable ledgers, and because the “bookkeeping” is kept by way of “hashes” of transactions (alphanumeric records), they can help anonymize users and verify the validity of transactions, as well as provide auditable records of transactions. Given increasing concerns about the privacy of our data, being able to help anonymize users and still retain traceable records can provide greater assurance and confidence in the transacting of business over networks.

What sort of ethical and social issues do we need to remain mindful of amid this body of blockchain innovation?

We should be careful not to be overly enthralled by the technology without also addressing the need for education. Blockchain is a tool that, when properly applied, can give patients and subjects power and maybe even wealth, while lubricating the flow of scientific data. But at the heart of the application we are creating, for instance, is the value of freedom and property. Similar applications could ignore those values, fail to bring the customer in, fail to educate them about their rights and responsibilities, and simply focus on the money. That would probably be the path of least resistance right now for any of our competitors.

How do we better manage the conundrum between efforts to foster data sharing and the need for consumer privacy?

One thing we are learning is that without some way to track the use of our data, we are at the mercy of the companies that gather that data. The transparency that blockchains afford us is the ability to track data use over time (in our case, genomic metadata which will reside on our blockchain) and yet keep that data encrypted. With private keys, we can be in control and aware of the use of our data, and yet make it available in a market, where we can be the curators, custodians, and salespersons instead of some intermediary. The system is trust-less. The ethic of privacy is actually cooked right into the technology, so we need not rely on some company’s goodwill to reveal their failures.

And what can the Equifax data breach of a few years ago teach us about security?

Equifax revealed their vulnerability, how many countless others have not? If we have a permanent, immutable record of transactions of our data, keep the metadata about that on a blockchain, and only trade our data with those who make the appropriate transactions with us, we as everyday citizens become more deeply involved with our own data, and have a better vantage point to judge our preferences about its uses, as well as guard against its misuse. When the technology makes this possible, an ecology and economy of sharing will grow without some of the risks we currently face through the use of intermediaries.

Can you share a bit about the software company you and Dr. Vanessa Gonzalez created to address the issue of genomic data and privacy?

EncrypGen was our response to the urgency of making genomic data more available for scientists and putting individuals in charge of their data and its use. We sought to develop the world’s first genomic blockchain for science and raised seed money to begin to build a real product. That seed money funded a couple of developers and a prototype, and in November 2018 a full version 1.0 of our product launched. We also sold half of the native tokens for the blockchain to customers helping us to ensure that we are liquid for the next year or two while we raise capital, build our team, and sell nodes of the Gene-Chain.

And just to back up a bit, why did you decided to launch this company?

Our decision to start a company was based on the fact that the problem of gene patenting went without fixing for decades because policy was often slow to catch up. We chose to make an artifact over arguments, with the idea that a good, working product capable of actually achieving the policy aims we thought could help protect privacy while enhancing science were brought to fruition quickly. The market will judge our success, not legislative bodies or courts.

You started Gene-Chain in 2017, the world’s first genomic data marketplace. How has that progressed and what are you learning over the course of its evolution?

We have met all our milestones and released the full version of our marketplace on November 6, 2018. Since then, we have been actively seeking and gaining users, as well as seeing traffic in the way of data sales on the platform. We now have 1000 users, the bulk of whom have uploaded their data (from direct to consumer genetic tests), filled out profiles, and many of whom are already earning $DNA for their data. We project, based on the transactions so far, that by the time we have between 30000 and 50000 users we will be profitable.

That sounds like some pretty high aspirations?

We know we can get that many users, and we know how much it will cost, and we expect to be able to do this in the next two years. Aiding us in meeting this goal is the invitation we recently received to take part in a project that will acquire us 100,000 users, basically for free, just by being part of this project over 30 months. We have learned, given the obvious pain points of 1) lack of affordable data for science, and 2) consumers not having been cut into the profit flow created by selling their data, that if we build it (as we have) they will come, (as they are).

And are there any new developments on your front with Microsoft for Startups, the $500 million initiative to help startup create, develop, and market enterprise- level software.

We became a Microsoft Startup recently, which affords us a range of benefits starting with Azure cloud credits. Our only real capital expense is cloud services, so those credits are helpful at this stage. Moreover, it has helped us to focus our product on a new, viable customer-type since MS startups includes even more benefits for a B2B product capable of listing on the MS Store. That product is coming this summer and will be yet another mechanism by which we will be able to hit our goals of user adoption.

Any updates from your partnerships with Murrieta Genomics and Viazoi.

Both our partnership with Viazoi and with Murrieta Genomics are additional means of allowing users to find us as each is cross-branding and encouraging their users to also use the Gene-Chain. We continue to seek to work with any organization that shares the values we have of user-enablement, ownership, and profit, and who wish to encourage their clientele to control and monetize their genetic data using the Gene-Chain. Because we remain the only company doing this with a token that can be converted to other currencies, we are receiving more such requests for partnerships all the time.  

How is your DNA token progressing? What sort of lessons can you share around the tokenization of your project?

The biggest lesson we can tie to tokenization and blockchain is that people like money, and tokens are valued as much as money with little hesitation. We have watched and waited for competitors to mimic our model, and have seen many eschew it over a variety of fears. Perhaps due to regulatory uncertainty, or due to concerns about user adoption, other “blockchain genomics” companies have essentially tossed aside the blockchain part in an effort to create new models for genomic data sharing. We think this is a mistake, and have even offered to let their users use our token to get paid for their data.

So it’s working for you?

Yes. It is working for us, and it works for our customers who are making money they can actually spend from data they already own. That offer remains open. The DNA token is valued, and can represent well the value of the data. In the end, we believe that blockchains without tokens or browseable public explorers aren’t abiding by the best features of blockchains.

What sorts of problems does a “genomic blockchain” solve for this evolving landscape?

It gives us a record, a ledger to track transactions, including data requests and payments. It enables us to reveal data to be searched for and request genomic data. It gives us a secure way to transmit data, through data streaming on a blockchain. It solves problems related to the reluctance to share data due to privacy concerns. It helps create a marketplace, maintain security, privacy and transparency as well as serve as a means of payment via a native token. It can even bring subjects into their own health and data curation, utilizing the consent procedures and tracking use of their own data over time for  better self-knowledge.

Has there been any progress on enterprise licensing in this space, particularly in higher education?

We do not sell licenses. We have a free market, so no one needs to buy a license from us to use the market. We do know of a couple research groups actively using or intending to use the Gene-Chain for their studies, and our interactions with them have actually helped us to refine the user experience.

What 2–3 emerging trends do you see emerging in this Blockchain + Genomic space in the next 12–18 months?

Health record blockchains, which are in various stages of development and fraught with a number of HIPAA issues, will begin integrating with our genomic blockchain. This is because the data is so easily de-identified, meaning that its use will tend to be less difficult to deal with, legally speaking. Additionally, genomic blockchains for animals, plants, the microbiome, and blockchains for metabolomics and proteomics will start to be developed. The standard currency for genomic data transactions as well as transactions for other types of health data will be our DNA token. The network effect will make the first successful genomic blockchain essentially the Westlaw of genomic data.

Your long-term vision and hope in terms of blockchain applications in the Genomics/Bioscience industry.

We hope that our Gene-Chain innovation will become basically the TCP/IP of genomic science. Most people won’t realize its role as the central connecting thread for scientists and individuals, storing and sharing genomic data for health, science, and commerce, but it will be the vital marketplace to which researchers, companies, and individuals go to transmit and monetize their data. Individuals will use it for free, as we have built it, to store and use their data for their own health, while choosing to expose metadata so that they could have their data used for science, and even get paid for it. It will be a quiet, but complete revolution in health and science.

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Managing Editor Michael Scott is a renowned blockchain journalist with a strong passion for the new digital economy. Prior to his career in media, he spent 10+ years serving leadership posts in healthcare, including UC Davis Medical Center institutional review board. Michael has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from The Ohio State University and a Master of Public Administration in Health Services Administration from the University of San Francisco.

Source: https://blockchainhealthcarereview.com/charting-the-blockchain-of-dna-feature-interview-with-david-koepsell-of-encrypgen/

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Mining Bitcoin: How to Mine Bitcoin

Introduction to Bitcoin Mining Mid-19th century California gold miners were called “forty-niners” after the year 1849, but this rush actually spanned from 1848-1853; it took five years for a quarter-million people to flood the state in search of “free wealth”. Satoshi Nakamoto first published the white paper on cryptocurrency back in 2008, and Bitcoin was … Continued

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Introduction to Bitcoin Mining

Mid-19th century California gold miners were called “forty-niners” after the year 1849, but this rush actually spanned from 1848-1853; it took five years for a quarter-million people to flood the state in search of “free wealth”. Satoshi Nakamoto first published the white paper on cryptocurrency back in 2008, and Bitcoin was launched in 2009. Today, in 2019, there are at least a million bitcoin miners around the world. A single bitcoin (or “1 BTC”) is worth almost $10,000, give or take a few hundred dollars, and there are around 1,800 new bitcoins mined every day, meaning there’s a whopping $18,000,000 being ‘created’ every day.

Not bad for ten years. No wonder everyone wants to learn how to mine bitcoin.

A Brief History on Money

Cryptocurrency is math that can be used as money.

Money is, fundamentally, an accounting of debt; you owe someone for a good or service, and giving them money erases that debt. Banks are giant ledgers, accounting for every transaction – when you paid for your coffee, this “ledger” sees that you lost $2 and the coffee shop gained $2.

Paper dollar bills do not record this specific transaction – who lost and who gained those $2 – but they act as evidence of a transaction having taken place at some point. In fiat currency, a state is the ultimate arbiter or holder of all the debts – and the one that mints, or makes, the currency in the first place. They account for how much currency they put out, and approximately how much is present now; the only road bump being that they do not know every transaction in between.

In cryptocurrency, no one person or entity controls a central ledger, because this “ledger” is effectively on every computer connected to the network of that currency; everyone has it. Since each unit of the cryptocurrency is composed of math, as opposed to physical substances like paper or gold, this math effectively records every transaction

So Where Does it Come From?

Fiat currencies are “made” (or rather, minted) by states, and accounted for by banks, but these currencies are often directly or indirectly made from precious metals that are mined from the Earth – which is why so many people flooded California in the mid-19th century. Minting is a middle step between the mining and the currency.

Cryptocurrency cuts out that middle step; bitcoin is “minted” and made from BTC mining.

If bitcoin is commercialized math, then mining is the process of solving all its equations. A common, yet accurate, joke explanation is, “imagine if you could solve puzzles, then use those solved puzzles as money”. Bitcoin is that, but on a much larger and astronomically more complex scale; bitcoin mining is both the process of solving puzzles, and the process of verifying other solves puzzles.

That said, these “puzzles” (called “blocks” in BTC mining) are operating on a very complicated scale. BTC mining is basically the process of racing to correctly the correct number out of 115,792,090,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible options – and doing so hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of times a day. This takes some pretty hefty computing power.

How to Mine Bitcoin

Despite a lot of chatter about bitcoin mining software, it is really a matter of hardware; software is just the most accessible way to access this hardware.

“Winning” or solving – and receiving payout for – is a combination of computational power and a bit of luck. If you accomplish this, you can get about 12.5 bitcoins, though starting in 2020, that will become 6.25. The number of bitcoins you receive for solving a block cuts in half every 210,000 blocks – which is roughly every four years, since the blocks get more and more complicated over time. This will keep going until 21 million bitcoins have been mined, a cap built into the system. There are currently only 3.17 million bitcoin left to be mined.

How to Mine Bitcoin in the Hard(ware) Way

There are two types of “miners” you can buy: application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) or graphics processing unit (GPU). These are not only very expensive to buy, but they also take up a lot of electricity and require a powerful network connection. This is why mining calculators exist – these are various apps and sites into which you can input details on your miner, your power cost, and your network cost, to figure out how much profit (if any, even) you will turn.

It is usually pretty low, and these days, mining with your own hardware is only really advised for people who already happen to have lots of hardware and great network on hand, and would not need to go out of their way to get those.

That just leaves…

How to Mine Bitcoin With Bitcoin Mining Software

At 12.5 BTC per block, when bitcoins are worth $10,000 each, that’s $1,250,000 on the line every time you are competing with other miners to “guess the right number” first. This takes far more computer power than most people can afford on their own.

As such, the most common way to get in on BTC mining is to join a collective of miners and “rent” the mining tools – known predominantly as cloud mining.

The biggest advantage is that there is a much lower barrier to entry when you cloud mine bitcoins. The biggest disadvantage is that instead of getting the reward all to yourself, you are splitting those bitcoins with other people, and typically a lot of them. Winning a million dollars doesn’t mean as much when you’re splitting it with a million people.

Step 1: Choose Your Wallet

Before you start working for a job, you want to know how you will be getting your pay. By the same token, before you start mining for bitcoins, you should know where you will keep your bitcoins once you earn them.

Online wallets are typically the most convenient, and easiest to use. They are also typically the most efficient for actually using your bitcoins to purchase goods and services, and you will have your bitcoins even if you lose all your devices. That said, this does put you in a similar position with a bank. If the host is experiencing heavy traffic or DDOS attacks, you may not be able to access your funds, and if they are hacked, you can lose your bitcoins entirely.

Hardware wallets are the opposite extreme. As physical objects, are completely offline, and thus cannot be hacked or otherwise remotely attacked. As long as you have your hardware wallet and a device to access it with, you will be able to access your funds. But what you gain in remote security is lost in personal security; if you lose your device or it’s physically stolen from you, you lose your bitcoins.
The middle-ground between these is “software wallets” or “desktop wallets” (though these can also be mobile apps). These are on your local device, so even if exchanges go down or are attacked, you still have your bitcoins, and the only way you can lose them to remote exploitation is if you, the specific individual, are targeted and hacked, which is very unlikely. But, it can still be used to conduct transactions and otherwise go online as necessary. That said, this is also vulnerable to loss if you lose your physical device (i.e. if someone steals your computer).

Step 2: Find Your Cloud

Mining companies are the computing clouds or collectives of miners. While joining such a company might be couched in terms of renting the hardware, another way to look at it might be that you are investing.

The amount you invest, or the rate at which you rent, is known as a “mining package”, which you pick once you join a mining company. You can also invest ahead of time in new technology that will be coming out at a later date. That said, investing in something that doesn’t exist yet is always a heavy risk.

There are many sites in which you can find comparisons between companies, including user ratings and reviews. Be careful with the
reviews – while they can be insightful, many are also full of people attempting to get new ‘recruits’ specifically with referral codes, which will net the refer-er a small bonus or profit.

Step 3: Pick Your Pool

A “pool” is basically the team of miners that you choose to join up with, and contribute your invest or computing power. If you are just starting out mining bitcoins, you should start by joining an “older” (or rather, more established and vouched-for) pool, and perhaps one with lower fees. The payout or profit from these will usually be on the low side, but they are also less risky.

As you get the hang of bitcoin mining and learn how pools work, you can start venturing out to other pools that aren’t as established and carry higher risks, but also higher rewards.

Buy Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP, and other cryptocurrencies on Coinsquare, the world’s home for cryptocurrency.


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Source: Coinsquare: Mining Bitcoin: How to Mine Bitcoin

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