DNA reading technologies show an extraordinary potential to enable trust in a variety of unexpected ways. For example, these technologies can trace and validate whole supply chains. They provide a way for consumers to make sure that a given product is what it pretends to be, or that it has been produced in the expected conditions or places.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has never been more familiar with the concept of DNA reading technologies, more specifically PCR tests. At the same time, several companies and research teams are developing new applications to foster DNA reading technologies as a trust enabler – ie. a technology that enhances trust and safety during a transaction between two parties.
On August 25, 2021, The Foundation for the Economy of Trust on behalf of Sicpa, Swissnex, and Trust Valley organized a private roundtable to explore these new possibilities with Gianpaolo Rando, CTO of SwissDeCode, Anna-Sophia Boguraev, laureate of NASA’s Genes in Space Program, Emma Cavalli, program manager at Haelixa, and Siyuan Chen, CTO of Twist Bioscience. The following paragraphs summarize the main points of the discussion.
DNA is a uniquely efficient molecule to foster trust – in the supply chain and beyond.
- Ability to represent unique codes: it can help to trace products down to each batch or number when used as a label.
- Extreme compactness: tiny amounts added to the product will not affect product properties and quality when used as a label.
- Large storage capacity: DNA is nature’s own storage system, optimized to encode a large amount of information.
- Safety: we are made of DNA, and we ingest DNA with all of our food. The safety test has been running for several billion years.
- Public perception: with the pandemic, people are more and more used to notions such as RNA and PCR. Perceptions might evolve positively, fostering novel applications.
Non-biomedical applications of DNA reading are becoming a reality.
In the short term, data storage remains the main non-biomedical application for DNA technologies. It could replace magnetic tape for massive data that do not require frequent read, or when reading speed is not an issue.
As a tracking label: Haelixa is already using its technology to trace supply chains in the textile industry. In labs, researchers use DNA as barcodes to efficiently track thousands of biosamples.
As a nanomaterial: we can use DNA structures as a scaffold. It might serve as an inorganic material to produce stronger nanostructures.
DNA trust application can be combined with blockchain.
DNA labels are complementary to blockchain technology. The information can be embedded into the product, and later on, read with PCR or sequencing to be stored safely on a blockchain.
This is a way for us to provide a crypto anchor to DNA tracing technologies.
Adapting DNA technologies in space can help to address issues on Earth.
In Space, ionizing radiations damage DNA and are a threat to astronauts’ health. Working on these issues might also prove useful on Earth.
Exposure to ionizing radiation would hurt the long-term stability of any kind of DNA labeling we tried to deploy in space. Shielding from radiation, which we already do, will help address a lot of the problems.
If we manage to figure out workarounds to prevent these damages from happening to DNA information stored in space, we might then have a protective method on Earth as well.
Astronauts commonly have their DNA studied for health and disease monitoring. Technologies designed for that kind of analysis can definitely be useful from a health perspective on Earth.
We need DNA writing and reading technologies to specifically answer the needs of non-biomedical applications.
For the time being, sequencing technologies are made to read the human genome for biomedical applications. There is no such thing as a sequencer specifically designed for data storage, and there might be some opportunities there.
With current technology, writing a megabyte of data still costs around $1000. It is good enough for a proof of concept, but obviously not for daily use. A good starting point for commercial DNA data storage applications would be around $100 per terabytes, ie. several orders of magnitude cheaper than what we can do today.
In a world where there is an ever-growing and accelerating deficit of trust, our economic well-being depends on ever more complicated and inter-connected transactions and decisions that cross over traditional borders and sovereignties.
In that context, the “Economy of Trust” is about using modern technology and innovations, empowered by the concept of “trust by design,” to reinforce and sustain this network. This model contributes to economic, social and environmental sustainability by building trust in every physical or digital transaction, interaction and product in daily life, leveraging the power of technology and transparency.
The Economy of Trust Foundation’s vision is to gather thought leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, academics and enablers to help develop policies, build solutions and leverage technologies that will accelerate the development of the Economy of Trust.
The Foundation’s TrustTech Talk series precedes the opening of the Unlimitrust Campus in Prilly/Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2022-23. Unlimitrust will provide a dynamic ecosystem with physical and digital spaces for members of the network and externals to collaborate and develop ideas that will shape the model for the Economy of Trust.