A team of chemists managed to use blockchain technology, originally developed for the cryptocurrency market, in a computer network that can help scientists from around the world investigate the origin of life on Earth — in other words, the technology that popularized Bitcoin can go far beyond the financial sector. The study was published in the scientific journal Chem.
Blockchain is used to mine cryptocurrencies and works as a technology that can solve mathematical problems to 'release' digital tokens. This way, the team used blockchain processes to generate a large network of chemical reactions and search for the prebiotic molecules that gave rise to life billions of years ago.
The scientists explain that, as they did not have any supercomputer to perform the calculations for this question, they used the Golem cryptocurrency mining platform.
After applying the necessary data, the computational mechanism resulted in primitive forms of metabolism, suggesting that life on the planet arose without the interference of enzymes or proteins that could aid primitive chemical reactions.
“He [Golem] allows you to obtain computing power in exchange for this cryptocurrency. So I could rent your computer's idle time. We were looking for a way to increase our computing capacity, and this is a worldwide computing scheme where we had thousands of people cooperating with us and granting us the use of about 20,000 CPUs around the world,” said study leader Bartosz Grzybowsk, associate of the Korean Institute of Basic Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Blockchain and the origin of life
Before starting to use Golem to search for results, chemists created the Network of First Life (NOEL) with data on molecules that were possibly on Earth approximately 4 billion years ago — this list included elements such as water, ammonia and methane.
After analyzing 11 billion prebiotic reactions, the team narrowed the number down to a manageable 4.9 billion reactions; thus, the NOEL result showed a few hundred molecules that could give rise to life.
Scientists have some theories about its origin on Earth, but they still don't know the exact answer.Source: GettyImages
The study points out that these hundreds of reactions are considered self-replicating; this means that the molecules could produce copies of themselves. One of the phenomena considered necessary for the emergence of life is, precisely, self-replication.
In any case, this does not mean that scientists have found the answer to the origin of plants, animals and humanity, but rather that blockchain can help in the search for a more precise conclusion to this primordial question.
“I hope that people in computer science can figure out how we can tokenize cryptocurrencies in some way that can benefit global science. Perhaps society could be happier with the use of cryptocurrencies if we could tell people that in the process we could discover new laws of biology or some new cancer medicine,” adds Grzybowski.
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