Monetizing Genomic Data Is the Latest Use Case for NFTs

While NFTs are most widely known for popularity with artists, they are expanding into other areas.

May 25, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:01 p.m. UTC

Professor George Church, co-founder of Nebula Genomics and professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, is minting a non-fungible token (NFT) of his genomic data, a first for the world of NFTs. 

Minted on the AkoinNFT marketplace, the NFT will be depicted as a high-resolution, artistic representation of Church’s genome and likeness. The NFT will also encode the digital location of Church’s full genomic data. That data will be hosted on the Oasis Network, a privacy-focused and blockchain-based cloud computing platform.

Church, one of the first people to have his genome fully sequenced, said the inspiration for the NFT comes, in part, from thinking about how genomic and health data can be fairly shared and monetized.  

“We think it’s essential that researchers have access to datasets that help them advance medicine, but we believe these datasets should be shared transparently,” said Church.

“Today, personal genomics companies have built their business models on monetizing user data. Unfortunately, the patient, or data owner, is frequently not even aware their data is being shared and is almost never compensated for it. NFTs and blockchain technology provide a new way to transparently share and monetize genomic data.” 

Taking NFTs beyond artistic content

While NFTs are most widely known for popularity with artists, they are expanding into other areas. They’ve been used as a mechanism for selling cybersecurity exploits and for proving your location in the Internet of Things. 

Church said he sees a future where individuals can choose to license their data to third parties as NFTs and set their own rules and permissions for who has access to that data.

“We’ve partnered with Oasis to develop technology where individuals can selectively grant permission to their data.” said Church. “This permission can also be revoked. Essentially, it will be possible to temporarily license data to third parties without forever giving it up. For my NFT, my genomic data will be hosted using Oasis.”

Oasis will be using its Parcel product to store and protect Church’s genomic data. 

Parcel is a set of privacy-first, data governance APIs designed to give customers better control of their data and oversight of how it is used according to Anne Fauvre-Willis, COO of Oasis Labs. 

Parcel’s suite of tools enables developers to securely store sensitive user data, define and enforce usage policies over that sensitive data, share tamper-proof logs of access history with their users, and deploy an isolated compute environment for privacy-preserving analysis.

Currently in beta, Parcel is used by Nebula Genomics to give customers control over their sequenced genome data. 

“We think that genomic data is a great example for how non-fungible digital assets can be traded,” said Church. “We believe that the model we’re pioneering can be used for any data owner wanting to license out data to third parties. For instance, consumers could choose to license their spending data with marketing firms building targeted ad campaigns.”

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