Artist Rachel Rossin mints her entire DNA sequence into an NFT

Artist Rachel Rossin is known for incorporating technology into her art. She’s been programming since she was 8 and dabbled in cryptocurrency in 2009 when the term wasn’t in the consciousness of the masses. She’s created moving images and embedded holograms into oil paintings. Now, she’s blurred the lines between the physical and the digital even further by minting her DNA sequence.

The NFT, minted on the OpenSea platform, consists of the entirety of Rossin’s sequenced genome. For Rossin, it’s a comment on how wetware, or living tissue, is the next step of technology.

When broken down to its basic form, DNA is just a string of codes that dictates how a living creature functions. For humans, it’s the blueprint that tells us what our hair color is, what diseases we will or won’t have, how we digest our food, etc. It’s not too different from the codes in programming that dictate how a program behaves.

In a way, we’re already treating our DNA like codes. Rossin herself was inspired to sequence her DNA by seeing the efforts to create a vaccine for COVID-19. Unlike traditional vaccines, where inactivated viruses are injected into the body to trigger a reaction and create antibodies, mRNA vaccines inject mRNA that will “teach” the body to make the required antibodies. Basically, instead of learning by fire, we are giving the body the blueprint on how to fight the virus.

To Rossin, this was clearly the next step in coding technology: organic computing.

“Organic computing is simply the idea that it’s possible to make computers out of wetware, living organisms. This already exists. In 1989, Georgia Tech made a calculator out of neurons that [scientists] took from a leech,” Rossin told ARTnews.

Wetware, as opposed to hardware and software, is further advanced. According to Rossin, a single strand of DNA is capable of storing 250 gigabytes of data. It lasts longer, too. Digital technology will eventually degrade and have a lifespan of around 100 years. When put in ice, DNA can be stored for millennia.

By minting her DNA, Rossin is stating that we are much closer to organic computing than many people think. But there’s also another, possibly unintentional meaning behind this move. Though Rossin has no intention of selling her NFT, the conversation around NFT has mainly been about selling and prices. 

Commenters and critics have laughed and scoffed about minting and selling arbitrary digital assets like web pages or tweets. But what if what is being sold is not so arbitrary? What does it mean when we can sell something so personal and private like our DNA sequence? Maybe at this moment, there’s not much anyone can do about this data other than discovering long-lost relatives or figuring out health issues. As our understanding of DNAs improves, there will be more we can do with a DNA sequence.

We don’t know if this will be a positive or negative development, but it is a development nonetheless. It’s one of the reasons why the digital space is so exciting to watch right now.

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