A Bitcoin Fork, Some GM Salmon, and An Asteroid Mining Law in Luxembourg | Vol. 4 / No. 41

This week we’ve got stories about the newest kind of Bitcoin on the block, genetically modified salmon hitting the market in Canada, and a new asteroid-mining law in Luxembourg that might be worth watching in the decade to come. It’s the news roundup for Sunday, August 6, 2017!

Bitcoin Cash

This week, the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin (BTC) “forked,” giving birth to two currencies which are both equally Bitcoin. The second, for clarity’s sake, is being referred to as Bitcoin Cash (BCC), and exists because of a rule change in the way the currency runs. I’ll explain. Bitcoin is run on what’s called a “shared ledger,” meaning that instead of tokens traded back and forth like with money, everyone just has a copy of an enormous ledger that keeps track of which accounts have which amounts in them. I’m not going to go into how the system works to make sure everybody’s copy of the ledger stays the same (you can learn that here), but that’s the basics. You might’ve heard me mention that there’s a bit of unrest going on in the Bitcoin world over the issue of “scaling”—there’s been a problem where transactions have been taking longer and longer to confirm, such that if you tried to buy a coffee with Bitcoin, it would be cold before the transaction cleared. Bitcoin Cash aims to fix it by (a) making the number of transactions you can fit into a given part of the ledger (a “block”) bigger, and (b) making it easier to “mine” (i.e. to solve the math problem miners try to solve faster). So, starting at block 478,559, BTC and BCC aren’t compatible anymore. All the transactions in the first 478,558 blocks of the ledger are the same, so if you had BTC in 478,558, you have an equal number of BTC and BCC in the next block. This is giving rise to all kinds of unpredictable behaviour, like people who hate BCC still mining it in an attempt to make it work less well, and it’s not doing good things for the price of BCC, either (meanwhile the price of BTC went north of $3000 for the first time in history this week). But only time will tell what’ll happen. I’ll be keeping an eye out.

 

Salmon | Photo: Boca Dorada, CC BY 2.0

GM Salmon Sold

A Massachusetts company called AquaBounty Technologies announced this week that it has now sold nearly five tons of GM salmon in Canada, the first genetically-engineered fish to be sold as a consumer product and the culmination of 25 years of research, development, and work toward regulatory approval. The “AquAdvantage” salmon is treated while in its embryonic phase to produce genetic changes in how much growth hormone the fish produces as it grows, which means that the fish can reach market size in roughly 18 months, about half that of untreated salmon. The company has been trying to get its salmon approved in the US since 1995, with the agencies involved requiring strictly-run studies on not only human health impacts but also environmental ones. Approval was granted by the US FDA in 2015, but riders attached to the US federal government’s 2017 budget have prevented sales of the fish until a new labelling scheme is devised—a politically-motivated roadblock designed to defend the Alaskan salmon industry (the proviso was created by a senator from Alaska). In the meantime, AquaBounty is expanding its Prince Edward Island facilities and ramping up production of the more sustainable salmon, in order to meet demand. You can read more on the story at Nature.

 

Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0

Space Mining Law

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has once again staked its claim on space, with a cutting-edge law allowing asteroid miners to keep what they retrieve going into effect this week. The law allows for companies with an office in the country to skirt the Outer Space Treaty—which says that countries may not own celestial bodies, but not that companies may not own things they take from celestial bodies. Essentially, the law allows companies to take things from asteroids without owning the asteroids themselves. While it may seem premature, it’s not a move without precedent: in 1985, the tiny, landlocked country helped create SES, Europe’s first private satellite operator, which has since become a multi-billion-Euro company. Given the trillions (and more) in resources that could be found on a single asteroid, then, it’s not too wild to see the country passing this law and teaming up with the US-based Deep Space Industries to build and fly a prospecting satellite, even though the technology to actually mine an asteroid is still many years in the future. So keep an eye on little Luxembourg—they’ve got their eye on the future. You can read more at Engadget.

 

Best of the Rest

As always there are plenty of things I couldn’t get to here, so here it is: your weekly linkspam.

That’s all for today. Have a great week.

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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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