Human Practice

Future scenarios

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it” - Alan Lakein

What would be the potential applications of CryptoGErM in the near and far future?

In this part of Human Practices, we explore the future scenarios of the introduction of the CryptoGErM system to the world.

With all these fictional scenarios we give a deep insight on the repercussions, applications and consequences that CryptoGErM would have if introduced as a daily life system.

The scenarios are presented as fictional digital news and articles from a futuristic and unreal city called New Groningen in The Netherlands in the near and far future, where the CryptoGErM system has been introduced, followed by an explanation of the current reasons behind its conceptualization.

We present them as digital news in a mobile device, based on the prediction that the UN Intellectual property agency’s chief made in an interview to La Tribune de Geneve, stating that newspapers will be replaced by digital versions by 2040.

"In a few years, there will no longer be printed newspapers as we know it today” “It’s an evolution. There’s no good or bad about it. There are studies showing that they will disappear by 2040” - Francis Curry

The last existing Public Library has disappeared!

First fictional scenario

What if in the far future we start to run out of space to accommodate the growing world population? Would we be able to find suitable places to inhabit without damaging natural areas? What if we use existent spaces to accommodate the growing population without the necessity of building new human settlements protecting the green areas? Have we thought about it?

According to the UN DESA report; “World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision”, by 2050 the world population is expected to reach to 9.7 billion; the available living space could not be sustainable to accommodate the rapidly-growing amount of people. Such raising in the population, probably, will see humanity looking for more space to make sustainable the living of new generations, without using the green areas.

Within this fictional scenario, CryptoGErM could offer a potential solution.

CryptoGErM is a system for the storing and safe-sending of information. By making use of the first purpose, we could store the whole current information contained in books, newspapers, articles and other physical paper-based within bacteria to reduce the space needed for the storing of such information. Bacteria, such Bacillus subtilis is able to store up to 1.5 GB of information; furthermore, 1 mm3 of DNA can store up to 109 GB of information. [1]

Just to put an example of this fictional application; it is estimated that the the information contained by the U.S. Library of Congress is equivalent to 200 TB, currently it is stored in a physical space of 186,000 square meter. If this information is stored into DNA, it would only occupy 0.0002 mm3.

Furthermore, storing int DNA is more eco-friendly, because it does not require any specific medium to keep it functional, in contrast with current magnetic and optical storage medium that requires energetic supply to continue working. Just in 2015, 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity were used by world’s data centres. This consumption was “significantly higher than the UK’s total consumption of about 300 terawatt hours.” [2]

Storing information in the DNA of bacteria, will replace the current storing medium (Fictional scenario)

Spores of Bacillus subtilis from 2016 found in the New Groningen

Second fictional scenario

This fictional scenario was created as an extreme case by using the long-term stability of Bacillus subtilis spores.

One of the advantages of our system is that the spores can survive for several years even if they are exposed to hard conditions. So far, studies have shown that spores exhibit incredible longevity in a broad range of environments on our planet. Actually, there are reports from research groups that have recovered and revived spores from samples as old as 105 years. This data shows the capability of our system to store information for hundreds or thousands of years, even in a hard-conditions environment.

This application seems promising in a near future, as we found out after the interview we had at the Groninger Archives; Jan Jaap Hoogstins, collection manager from the Groninger Archieven, explained us that now most of the documents are being changed from analogous data storage to digital data storage, and one of two most important things that a storage system must fulfil is the durability, which means that the information stored must be conserved for a long period of time.

Spores of Bacillus subtilis are a reliable option since they have shown its long-term resistance. Actually, in 2000, a spore-forming Bacillus strain was isolated from a 250 million years old salt crystals. Moreover, DNA itself is a more stable data storage medium when compared to magnetic and optical medial, because it can remain intact for at least 700 000 years at -4˚C.[3] Even in harsh environments, DNA has a half-life of over 500 years. [4] Contrastly, current magnetic storers of information have lasts at most 30 years.[5]

However, is the DNA that contains the encrypted information in bacteria able to mutate through this period of time?

A complete discussion about mutation in Bacillus subtilis spores can be found in the Modelling Section.

A complete movie has been successfully stored in DNA

Third fictional scenario

This fictional and extreme scenario provides an example of the future applications of CryptoGErM based on the current files and archives that have been stored successfully in DNA.

Currently, big companies such as Microsoft® have shown interest in the storage of information in DNA. This gives us an idea that DNA storing has started to become one of the most promising methods to store information in the upcoming years. This is mainly given by the capacity of storage that DNA posses; Church, Gao and Kosuri showed that 0.5 exabytes of information can be stored per gram of single-stranded DNA.[6]

A big breakthrough happened in April 2016, when Microsoft published an extensive paper in a joint project with the University of Washington[7] in which they explore the potential application for the use of DNA as storage medium. According to this work, DNA storage has a higher durability in comparison with current systems. Within the applications of storing information in DNA, this group stored in a DNA sequence and recovered succesfully three images that originally were in JPEG format. This shows that nowadays, it is not only possible to store text and information as we did in CryptoGErM; but DNA can be taken to another level of storage.

If now it is possible to store images in DNA, in the near future we might be able to store complete movies on DNA

DNA sequence drops to $0.0002 per Megabase

Fourth fictional scenario

CryptoGErM is designed primordially for information that requires to be stored for a longer period of time and whose accessibility is not required immediately. However, we are pretty sure that this would change in the upcoming years due to the fact that DNA sequencing is becoming faster and cheaper every year. The inclusion of new and modern techniques, like massively parallel DNA sequencing,[8] have resulted in the decrease of the price and time needed for the DNA sequencing parallely to the increasing of the number of megabases that can be read.

Since 2008,[9] it has been predicted that DNA sequencing techniques would evolve till the point that we will be able to obtain the DNA sequence in just a few hours or minutes, even though many technical challenges have to be overcome first.

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established to take part on behalf of the NIH within the International Human Genome Project (HGP), has been tracked the costs associated with the DNA sequencing (These tack is done within the Centers founded by the National Institute). This data can be consulted freely on the webpage of the NHGRI, in the section “DNA Sequencing Costs: Data.[10] The following graph contains the data of the costs of DNA Sequencing up to October 2015.

Cost per Megabase of DNA Sequence

The graph above shows how the cost for the sequencing of DNA has plummeted since the beginning of the 21st century; this is mainly given by the introduction of high-throughput techniques. By October 2015, according to the data provided by the National Human Genome Research Institute, the cost for Megabase base of DNA sequencing was $0.0145. By this year 2016, the cost of the DNA sequencing is expecting to be further reduced. However, until now, not official data has been released.

According to Moore’s Law, that states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit and its computational power doubles approximately every two years, the cost per Megabase at 2015 was expected to be around $50; however, the computational equipment associated with the DNA sequencing has growing exponentially decreasing even further the price, besides the new techniques that allows a faster and more precise analysis.

With all this information, our hypothetical scenario seems to be possible in just a couple of years, in which novel upcoming techniques are available on the market.

However, CryptoGErM is not only a system for the storing of information, our system goes beyond that; rather than just storing encrypted information, our system can be used for physical sending.

And if the system is in the wrong hands?

What would happen if the system would end up in the hands of a criminal? Which impact would it have?

To give an answer to this question, we propose a computational simulation to model the behaviors of some of the agents that could use the CryptoGErM system, within these agents, a potential criminal was included. Please consult the AI Agent Model in The Modelling Section for further information and discussion


  • [1] Bornholt, J. et al. A DNA-Based Archival Storage System. ASPLOS’16.
  • [2] Bawden, T. (January 23 2016) Global warming: Data centres to consume three times as much energy in next decadde, experts warm. Retrieved from
  • [3] Ancient DNA: Towards a million-year-old genome - Nature 499, 34-35 (04 July 2013) DOI: 10.1038/nature12263
  • [4] The half-life of DNA in bone: measuring decay kinetics in 158 dated fossils - Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Dec 7; 279 (1748)
  • [5] Bornholt, et al. A DNA-Based Archival Storage System. ASPLOS ’16. April, 2016.
  • [6] Church, G. Gao, Y. Kosuri, S. Next-Generation Digital Information Storage in DNA. Science. 37, 2012, pp. 1628
  • [7] Bornholt, J., Lopez R., Carmean D., Ceze L., Seelig G., Strauss K. A DNA-Based Archival Storage System. ASPLOS ‘16. April 2-6. DOI: 10.1145/2872362.2872397
  • [8] Mardis, E. Next-Generation DNA Sequencing Methods. Annu. Rev. Genomics Hum. Genet. 9, ,2008, , pp. 238
  • [9] Shendure, J. Ji, H. Next-generation DNA sequencing.
  • [10] Wetterstrand, KA. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program (GSP) Available at: Accessed September 18th 2016
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