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Using Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technologies to Fund the De Novo Sequencing, Assembly, and Open Access Publishing of the Cannabis sativa L. Genome

Published: Jan 22, 2020   

As next-generation sequencing accelerates discoveries in genome biology, the current peer review system is becoming a bottleneck to share such work. Concurrently, the rate of non-reproducible manuscripts is increasing. Blockchain technologies have the potential to help streamline the peer review process, improve data immutability, and provide authors the ability to mathematically prove attribution and timestamps.

Medicinal Genomics chose to sequence and assemble a comprehensive cannabis genome, the plant that is the basis of a $50B industry, as a demonstrative model for a blockchain recorded peer review. This included the use of cryptocurrencies to fund the sequencing and genome assembly along with providing a reviewer incentive to pro-actively review the data and digitally sign each edit on a blockchain.

A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) (Dash Cryptocurrency) provided funding via a monthly competitive review and open access award. Using cryptocurrency as an alternative funding source, over 134Gb of Pacific Biosystems sequence data (N50 RL = 41kb) was generated and assembled in a 77-day window from funding to public upload.

The highly AT-rich and very repetitive genome assembled into a total of 510 contigs with an initial 2N = 1.06 Gb genome size where the N50 contig size was 3.84Mb. The genome demonstrates a 97% complete BUSCO score which is more complete than any cannabis genome to date. An additional 600M HiC reads expanded the N50 scaffold size to 75Mb across 233 contigs.

Medicinal Genomics observe the CBCA, THCA and CBDA synthase gene clusters have been phased onto respective contigs demonstrating tandem repeat expansions. Interestingly, although the plant was grown in a clean, hydroponic environment, they identified 48 contigs associated with microbial genomes. They also observed high coverage but hypomethylated heteroplasmy for the chloroplast genome that exhibited little to no Hi-C autosomal contacts. To ensure the highest quality assembly is public and open access, Medicinal Genomics recruited 3 independent reviewers to review, comment, challenge, and improve the assembly, enshrining those reviews as part of the open publication process.

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