The Verge has one of the most potentially confusing science stories in a while. Gene Roddenberry’s estate, they report, has rendered the Star Trek creator’s autograph as DNA code inside a dormant bacteria, and then sold the germ – which could replicate itself whenever reawakened – as the first living Non-Fungible Token:
Even though there could quickly be billions of replicas, the NFT is called “El Primero,” which means “the first” in Spanish. Right now, though, the bacteria cells are dormant. Scientists working on the project freeze-dried the cells after 10 hours. They can be re-animated in the future, and then the zombie-bacteria can begin replicating themselves once again. In the meantime, the desiccated bacteria will be exhibited at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair that kicks off on December 2nd. They fit inside a vial that’s encased in a glass cube.
NFTs have been making headlines lately, some selling for millions of dollars, with high-profile memes like Nyan Cat and the “deal with it” sunglasses being put up for auction. There’s also a lot of discussion about the massive electricity use and environmental impacts of NFTs.
Data centers, where digital data is stored on hard disk drives, are notorious for guzzling up water and burning through electricity to keep servers cool. And NFTs tied to blockchains like Ethereum operate on an outstandingly energy inefficient security mechanism called “Proof of Work.” This method prompts miners to solve complex puzzles using energy-hungry machines to verify transactions and earn tokens, protecting the blockchain’s record of transactions by making it too expensive to mess with the ledger.
El Primero manages to avoid some of the climate drama of traditional data storage and NFTs. For starters, early research has shown that synthetic DNA can potentially save energy and avoid greenhouse gas emissions compared with current commercial data storage by storing way more data in a much smaller, denser package.
Second, the NFT won’t be bought and sold on the most energy-hungry blockchains.