Jan 26, 2024 - Business

Science taps blockchains to understand origins of life on Earth

illustration of a person looking into a microscope and hands holding a beaker on a background made of dollar bills and science notes

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Of all the potential use cases for crypto technology, you seldom hear the phrase: "helping to understand the origins of life."

Why it matters: A shoutout to blockchains from the scientific community is a win for the industry, helping to validate the technology's wide range of application possibilities.

Driving the news: A team of scientists from ​​the Korea Institute for Basic Science and the Polish Academy of Sciences published research in the journal Chem this week. They claim to have generated the largest-known network of prebiotic reactions.

  • That's a fancy way of describing chemical reactions that's given rise to other things that could ultimately have sparked life on Earth. That's pretty interesting.

Yes, but: To create of list of potentially relevant reactions, you need to calculate billions of possibilities. This is hard to do, and very expensive if you try.

What they did: To start, the researchers worked with Allchemy, a scientific software company that does this sort of thing. Using computational synthesis and AI algorithms, they created 50,000 molecules believed to have emerged during the origins of life on Earth.

  • Then came the hard part.

For this, they turned to the Golem Network, a pioneer in what's known as DePIN (Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks).

  • Golem, which offers its network Golem tokens in exchange for spare computing power, tapped hundreds of computers from around the world to calculate more than 11 billion putative prebiotic reactions, resulting in a network of 4.9 billion that were deemed plausible.

The big picture: This type of computing power requires supercomputers or other sources, like cloud computing service providers, which take big money — something not often available for scientific researchers.

  • "If you asked me two years ago, I'd be thinking we'd need years for this type of work," the paper's senior author Bartosz A. Grzybowski told Chemeurope.com.
  • "But for a fraction of the cost, in two or three months, we finished a task of 10 billion reactions, 100k times bigger than we did previously."

Zoom out: Grzybowski told Chemeurope that it's his hope that blockchain technology can be repurposed in a way that can revolutionize the process for large scale calculations in his field.

  • "I hope people in computer science can figure out how can we tokenize cryptocurrencies in some way that can benefit global science," he told the pub.

The bottom line: Advocates of decentralized science, or DeSci, would agree.

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