University of Antwerp PhD student Sander Wuyts has won the DNA Storage Bitcoin challenge, issued by Professor Nick Goldman of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in 2015. The value of the coin has risen rapidly in three years, while the value of scientific progress is inestimable.
On 21 January 2015, Nick after explaining a new method for storing digital information in DNA issued a challenge, where test tubes containing samples of DNA encoding 1 Bitcoin were distributed to the audience. The first person to sequence (read) the DNA and decode the files it contained could take possession of the Bitcoin.
“Bitcoin is a form of money that now only exists on computers, and with cryptography, that’s something we can easily store in DNA,” he explained.
Sander Wuyts successfully solved the DNA Storage Bitcoin Challenge before the deadline set by its creator, Goldman – 21 January 2018.
“Goldman was still willing to send me a tube of DNA,” Sander recounts in an accompanying release about how he only decided to enter the challenge at the end of 2017 after seeing a tweet from the well-known British scientist.
“The DNA contained instructions on how to claim the bitcoin, the logo of the European Bioinformatics Institute, a drawing of James Joyce and a few other things.”
Sander and a small team collaborated to win the prize, even organizing a “small hackathon” to widen the potential for cracking the DNA code.
Sander, who once invested poster-prize money in cryptocurrency to figure out how this technology works, is proud of having won the challenge but cautious about the prize.
“I didn’t win thousands of euros, I won one Bitcoin,” he says. “I will probably cash it out, because I have my doubts about the long-term value of this cryptocurrency. What’s more important is that before participating in this challenge I had my doubts about the feasibility of using DNA to store data. This challenge changed that. Now I know very well that this new technology offers great opportunities, maybe even for my own future research.”
He added he would use the Bitcoin prize money to fund research and reward those who helped him win.
Decryption of encrypted information in the DNA sample demonstrates that the digital storage method is practical.