The Plan to Put Bitcoin in Mouse DNA With a Genetically Engineered Virus

BitMouseDAO has exactly two investors and almost no money, but they do have a wild idea.
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Image: Getty Images.

A new decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) wants to genetically engineer mice so that they carry Bitcoin inside them. 

BitMouseDAO launched on January 25. As of this writing, it has exactly two investors, almost no money, and no Discord. One investor, who put in .01 ETH, commented “Lmao,” while the other who put in the same amount said, “crazy.” The scheme, according to the DAO’s pitch, is to experiment with genetic technology to put Bitcoin inside a mouse.

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The anonymous mind behind this project claims to be an artist who got the idea as they were going to sleep one night. They jotted the idea down and began to ponder its possibilities. “Over the next few weeks I started looking around to see if it was possible to carry out the experiment,” theys said in a blog post. “I was excited to imagine how this would affect us in the future.”

After namechecking artist Eduardo Kac’s genetically engineered phosphorescent rabbits, BitMouseDAO then rambles about how cool it will be to make a living thing into literal money. “We have tied the value of the mouse directly to Bitcoin, and it will fluctuate with the daily value of Bitcoin,” they said. “Maybe in ten years it will be worth $100 million, or maybe it will be worth nothing.”

BitMouseDAO told Motherboard that it’s a collective of artists. “At this stage, we prefer to be like pack with no country, no gender, no member,” it said in an email. “In this project we are just members of BitMouseDAO.”

Though science is involved here, BitMouseDAO stressed this is an artistic venture. “BitMouseDAO is an art project that connects the crypto world with the art world as well as the biological realm through the bold idea of putting bitcoin in mouse,” it said. “We explore consensus on the value of crypto and our vision for the future of technology. We don't make a biochemical monster.”

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It told Motherboard it planned to launch a Discord and build a community once it drew more attention. “We don't need as much money as auctioning constitutions or space travel, our fundraising uses include the purchase of a bitcoin, gene editing experiments, mouse breeding and rental of specimen placement sites, and developing NFTs.”

How would one accomplish the task of genetically engineering a mouse so that it carries Bitcoin? Scientists have already developed methods of encoding information in strands of DNA, so in theory it’s not a complete non-starter. The post mentions two possibilities for how it might accomplish this goal. First, BitMouseDAO plans to use a cold wallet to generate a private key offline. Purchased bitcoins will then be pumped into this wallet.

The tricky part, then, is editing the mouse’s genetic code to carry the private key that controls the bitcoins. The plan is to work with a company to translate the key into a corresponding ATGC sequence of DNA and encode it into the mouse during fertilization. “We rely on a mouse surrogate for gestation until its birth,” BitMouseDAO said.  If that doesn’t work, BitMouseDAO will just engineer a harmless virus carrying the key and inject it into mice. 

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Once the mouse has the private key encoded in its DNA via genetic engineering, then BitMouseDAO envisions that its children will, too. 

“Ideally the offspring of the BitMouse would also carry the private key,” the post says. “And we would make specimens of them to sell at auction after they die of natural causes. At that point, a single Bitcoin would split into multiple specimens, but as soon as someone breaks the specimen to extract the genetic information and thus remove the BitMouse, the other specimens would lose their value. On the flip side, breaking the specimen and destroying the artwork may not even happen when bitcoins are worthless.”

“We're certainly looking forward to all the fun!”

If the mouse is carrying around a key-ladened virus, BitMouseDao says it will create an NFT based on the image of the mouse and then auction it off. “The final bidder will receive a physical artwork of the mouse (the artwork is designed as a tribute to Damien Hirst's animal cadaver work),” BitMouseDao said. “The animal cells will remain active under this preservation technique.”

Hirst’s work involves large display containers and a mountain of formaldehyde to display things like sharks and cows in suspended animation. Dead, but with the appearance of life. In essence, it sounds like BitMouseDao wants to send one lucky NFT buyer a virus-ridden mouse preserved in a formaldehyde jar.

But what if, instead, BitMouseDAO is able to birth mice carrying a copy of the key in its very genetic structure? More NFTs, of course, and then a breeding program. “The first born mouse enters an initial BitMouseDAO donor's address for free,” they said. “Mouse breeding will cease from the third month after the first mouse is born. A physical mouse artwork will be distributed after the last mouse dies of natural causes.”

If you’re concerned about the safety of the mice, don’t be. BitMouseDAO claims that it will use a harmless virus to deliver the private key, or, in the event it uses gene editing techniques, it will not target any useful proteins that will have an effect on the mice.

“We certainly felt that changing the genes was the best option,” BitMouseDAO told Motherboard. “We had a meeting with bio companies last weekend to explore the possibility of implementing it, and they said it was absolutely possible to edit into a fertilized egg and be heritable because that's what they do every day doing things for pharmaceutical companies and labs, this is a very mature and safe program.”

In a world where DAOs are organizing to buy copies of a Dune book, rare Wu-Tang albums, and the Constitution, it’s refreshing to see a scheme so harebrained and original, even if it’s unlikely to ever happen. It’s also terrifying. Call me old fashioned, but the idea of genetically engineering something with the code to a crypto wallet inside it is a grim portent. In a bizarre world where a segment of the population wants to financialize everything, tying a literal life to the blockchain is a step over a moral and ethical line. It’s just a mouse, but even a mouse deserves the dignity of being worth more than its place on the blockchain.