Botanical DNA Becomes A Critical Link For Law Enforcement, Military


It sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi novel, but new technologies that leverage DNA to place indelible markers on critical assets all over the world is helping law enforcement, the military, and regular business keep track of money and manage supply chain. A company called Applied DNA Sciences (APDN) based in Stony Brook, New York, provides DNA-based anti-counterfeiting technology and product authentication.

The way it works is this – scientists at the company have found a way to create unique markers using botanical DNA that can’t be replicated, and once placed on anything from money, to clothes, and even human skin – can’t be removed. Now, with the use of this technology APDN will be creating a DNA-Protected Community in Stockholm, Sweden, in a trial collaboration with the Stockholm Police and three large insurance companies.

The trial project, known as MarkDNA,essentially makes it nearly impossible for criminals to get out of a crime. In the collaboration, 500 houses in Tyreso, in the southern part of Stockholm, household items will be marked with the APDN anti-theft product DNANet, branded in Sweden as smartDNA. The marks are designed to be forensically analyzed in an APDN lab in order to pinpoint the origin of the stolen object. Should stolen items in possession of a criminal be recovered by police, the smartDNA mark will link the criminal directly to the crime. As soon as the criminal handled the property, the mark is transferred and doesn’t wash off.

Items that are marked with smartDNA may also be scanned instantly with a UV light, which will show the presence of the smartDNA mark with a bright fluorescence. All police cars in Stockholm County will be fitted with UV lights used to help find DNA-branded loot.

The trial is similar to one under way for several months in London, where APDN has protected over 2000 homes with the DNANet system. Law enforcement in at least two other countries in Europe have expressed interest in the system. “We have been deploying these technologies since 2009,” Mitchell Miller, a spokesman for Applied DNA Sciences in an interview with CivSource.

In the UK, strong boxes used to move cash have been marked with the technology, so that in the event the cash is stolen and scrubbed the mark still shows up. “Because it is DNA based technology, it is admissible and holds up in court,” Miller explains. Using the DNA marks on cash-in-transit led to three high profile convictions in the UK this week. So far the technology has contributed to the jailing of 74 criminals, many of them arrested for armed and dangerous acts, resulting in sentences totaling more than 350 years in prison. The product has had a 100% conviction rate since its introduction in 2009.

Other variations of the technology include a smoke-cloak alarm system. With this type of system, when burglars intrude on a space, the space will fill with dark smoke causing most criminals to flee. However, by coming in contact with the smoke they are now marked with the DNA. According to Mitchell, even if they wash their clothes and shower, the mark remains on both the clothes and human skin until the skin cells completely regrow (normally over a period of 28-30 days).

The technology also has applications in supply chain management, acting almost like an RFID or barcode on steroids. The US military’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is using DNA markers to track its high value supply chain assets and curb counterfeiting. In the private sector, textile companies are also using the product at the grower level, marking specific cotton crops to ensure that high-priced textiles aren’t diluted or counterfeited when they are sent to factories in China and elsewhere. “Our work in textiles may well be the largest assembly of DNA material behind a single purpose out there right now, and there is still significant demand,” Mitchell says.

Over the coming year, the company plans to continue to expand its work with global and domestic law enforcement, the military and private sector companies with high value assets. The image below shows an example of marked bills. All images for this story were provided by Applied DNA Sciences.