Story at a glance

  • Non-fungible tokens are unique identifiers tied to blockchain technology, a decentralized database of records.
  • Art collectors and others are increasingly using NFTs to authenticate original works for value.
  • Now, one scientist wants to use an NFT to mark his own genome.

If there’s one thing you can claim as your own, you’d think it’d be your own DNA. One scientist, however, is auctioning off their own genomic data, using an NFT.

NFTs, or non fungible tokens, have taken the art world by storm as a method of identifying original digital works. Now, George Church plans to sell the first genomic NFT, which includes a high-res artistic representation of his genome and likeness as well as the digital location of his full genomic data, hosted on a decentralized server. 


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“Historically, genomic and health data has been monetized with a lack of transparency. That is to say, patients and consumers rarely have full insights into who has access to their data. The rise of blockchain and NFTs however, have enabled a new model for how data can be owned and monetized,” said a release on behalf of the Harvard medical professor.

Of course, this isn’t just any genome. As a part of the Human Genome Project and the Personal Genome Project, Church’s genome was the fifth whole human genome ever sequenced. Now known as the “The Father of Synthetic Biology,” Church was also the first person to make his medical records and genome publicly available to researchers.


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But scientists and researchers haven’t always asked for permission before profiting off of such information, often taken from Black and Indigenous Americans. Most famously, Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells were taken without her consent during medical treatment and became the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line. 

“By auctioning off his genome as an NFT, Nebula Genomics and Professor Church are kick-starting a conversation around fair and transparent ways to monetize and share health data,” said the release, referring to the professor’s own genome sequencing company and noting that part of the proceeds from the sale will go towards genomic research. 


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Published on Apr 19, 2021