Another big announcement from Consensus…

As regular readers know, I make the annual pilgrimage to the Consensus blockchain conference in New York City each year. I’ve attended Consensus every year since the conference’s founding in 2015.

Last week, I reported back on Polymath’s big security tokenization announcement at this year’s conference.

Today, I have another big announcement to report on…

Cryptocurrency payment processing company Flexa unveiled a new app called Spedn. It allows people to spend Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) at normal retail stores.

And it’s quite simple. The Spedn app produces a code that retail stores can scan and use for payment. That’s it… It’s even easier than swiping a credit card.

At launch, Flexa secured deals with 15 retail stores, including Barnes & Noble, Baskin-Robbins, Crate & Barrel, Caribou Coffee, Lowe’s, GameStop, Regal Cinemas, and Office Depot.

Flexa’s new app got a lot of attention because it teamed up with Gemini – the cryptocurrency exchange founded by the Winklevoss twins in 2014. And this was considered the first practical way consumers could spend crypto in a retail environment.

Sounds great, right? It certainly got a lot of coverage. But I saw something different.

Though Flexa’s Spedn application is making the use of cryptocurrencies for retail purchases easy, this just isn’t interesting to me. 

All that happens is Gemini converts the cryptocurrency back to fiat currency on the back end. So, the retail stores still aren’t accepting crypto… Nothing changes for them. They are still receiving fiat currency for payment.

And consumers don’t realize this, but there are fees involved in making the conversions from cryptocurrency to fiat for this system to work… and they’re not cheap. 

U.S. dollars, credit cards, and technologies like Apple Pay already work great for small retail purchases. I just don’t see the point of an application like this.

So, I expect adoption to be limited for this implementation. I just don’t see a lot of advantage there.

But this doesn’t mean digital assets are in trouble.

Bitcoin was designed to be a secure blockchain that could store value safely and transfer that value to another person anywhere in the world, at any time, in a matter of seconds. Bitcoin is wildly successful at this. But it was not designed to handle millions of retail payments every day.

As for other cryptocurrencies, they work best when designed for one specific function. Smart contracts… file storage… distributed computing power… identity management… We can think of them as economic incentives in a micro-economic network.

Cryptocurrencies will serve many purposes. But using cryptocurrencies for small, retail purchases by just converting them to a fiat currency will not be one of them.

The industry has a lot of work to do before a consumer-facing, retail environment is transacting entirely in digital assets.

The next biotech breakthrough…

An exciting biotech company called GRAIL just announced that it can detect early-stage cancer with a simple blood test. This is huge.

As you likely know, detecting cancer early is the absolute best way to treat it. The longer it goes undetected, the less likely it is a patient will beat it.

But detecting cancer early has been difficult… until now.

Simply put, GRAIL’s breakthrough is incredible. We have never been able to detect cancer with something as simple and fast as a small blood test.

GRAIL developed its methodology from tests on more than 100,000 patients. And it’s completing another study of 50,000 patients now. The company will present those results at the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, next month.

I am excited to see the data. If conclusive, as I expect it will be, GRAIL will be on the path to FDA approval. And the FDA already granted GRAIL its breakthrough device designation, which will expedite FDA approval.

Also interesting is where GRAIL’s funding came from.

GRAIL raised $100 million in venture capital (VC) during its Series A round, back in 2016. Among the investors were Jeff Bezos’ VC firm, Bill Gates’ VC firm, Google Ventures, and genetic sequencing giant Illumina.

That’s a star-studded cast… Something important to look for when analyzing biotech companies. It means that the technology has real potential. Billionaires like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos wouldn’t invest their money if it didn’t.

And that makes GRAIL a company to watch. It will likely go public on the back of positive trial results. That may lead to a fantastic investment opportunity in the near future.

How to code bacteria…

News is out that the University of Cambridge has created a new form of bacteria. What’s unique is that researchers coded this bacterium on a computer… Just like software.

To do this, they took the structure of an E. coli bacterium and reprogrammed it with a new bacterial genome. That makes it a synthetic life form… Artificial life.

Now, this isn’t the first artificial life form. Craig Venter – the man who led one of the first teams to sequence an entire genome – created the world’s first back in 2010.

But here’s the difference… Craig’s life form consisted of just 473 genes. Cambridge’s bacterium has nearly 5,000 genes. It’s much more complex.

For comparison, humans have 20,000 genes. So, this E. coli-based bacterium has roughly one-fourth of the number of genes a human has.

And it reproduces itself under the right conditions. There are some incredible implications there. It means we could potentially create synthetic bacteria to perform specific tasks for us. 

For example, think about an oil spill in the ocean. We could design a reproducing, synthetic life form that could consume the oil spill. That’s a cheap way to clean it up.

Or what about life forms designed to eat a cancer tumor? Or clean your teeth and gums while you brush?

We’re at the point where we are able to start programming and editing genetic structures. Historically, this was impossible. And analyzing DNA was largely a manual, laborious process. 

Today, we are seeing the gains of applying exponential technology to biology and genetics.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge