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Crime Science

Scientists Create "DNA Barcodes" To Thwart Counterfeiters 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the swab-it dept.
Zothecula writes "Earlier this year, we heard about a gun and a fogging system, both of which tag criminals with synthesized DNA. The idea is that when those people are apprehended later, they can be linked to the crime by analyzing the location- or event-specific DNA still on their skin or clothing. Now, scientists at the Technology Transfer Unit of Portugal's University of Aveiro are developing something similar – 'DNA barcodes' that can be applied to products, then subsequently read as a means of identification."
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Scientists Create "DNA Barcodes" To Thwart Counterfeiters

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  • by plover (150551) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @09:15PM (#44966979) Homepage Journal

    It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

    Tagging with DNA is fine, if you can pick out the exact molecule you need. But anything can be defeated.

    • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @09:58PM (#44967253)

      It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

      And another Kickstarter project is born...

      • by drkim (1559875)

        It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

        And another Kickstarter project is born...

        Except I'm calling the product: "$5 Hooker DNA"

    • This is not about human DNA, it's synthesized. They already tag stuff with "micro markers" that are extremely hard to get all off. These micro markers have lots of "serial numbers" on them. By making specific "micro markers" that have DNA-style serial numbers, you can make the markers even smaller.

      Unless you have your own synthesizer to make these micro markers yourself and you are able to make a zillion different serial numbers, you spray bottle of "stadium dna" won't help a thing here.

      Then again, it's

      • "Unless you have your own synthesizer to make these micro markers yourself and you are able to make a zillion different serial numbers, you spray bottle of "stadium dna" won't help a thing here. "

        See my other post from yesterday. I found some used PCR machines on Ebay for as little as $250.

        Today DNA, "synthesized" or not, is ridiculously easy to replicate. It doesn't have to be "re-synthesized", it only needs to be copied. And all you need for copying is a small sample of the original and one of those PCRs.

        Further, copying today is ridiculously cheap, compared to just a few years ago.

        Using it for security purposes is misguided at best. I won't use the word I'm really thinking.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Thursday September 26, 2013 @09:18PM (#44967005)
    I don't see any way this can possibly fail. We all know it's very difficult for DNA to be replicated, and it certainly isn't self-replicating, so it's not as if some party could obtain the DNA, replicate it, and then place it on their counterfeit product.
    • by MtHuurne (602934)

      The duplication equipment would be an additional expense and isolating and duplicating the marker DNA an additional skill set required for counterfeiting, so it is a deterrent even if it can be circumvented.

      • by 2fuf (993808)

        Here in Europe, ATMs are constantly being targeted by Romanian criminals. Not because Romanians are particularly bad people, but because the manufacturing plant that built the ATMs is located there. These people are robbing the cash machines they built themselves a couples of months earlier. The people who know how to hack them sell this information and complete toolkits on a thriving black market.

        So, yes, it does require additional resources and skills to bypass sophisticated technology. But don't underest

    • by Anonymous Coward

      no problem, you just have to change your own dna afterwards

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I can't find the article, but I recall reading about a fiasco with one of these DNA tagging companies.
      They were supposed to be selling high security (unique) DNA tagging solutions,
      but it turns out they were sourcing their product from a third party (instead of manufacturing it themselves, per their contract).

      They took this third party solution and were selling the same exact stuff to multiple companies as unique.
      TLDR: You don't have to replicate the DNA if you can just buy it from the source.

    • by sjwt (161428)

      Some of the councils over here in Australia have had issues with smaller items like plants being stolen from public places and resold, and have been using this for years.

      http://www.datadotdna.com/au/datadot_home_protection.php [datadotdna.com]

      • The problem being solved there is the opposite of the problem here. By tagging your stuff with the DNA, you are saying that it is yours. A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. That's the opposite of why fencing exists. By contrast, a counterfeiter has strong incentives to make something appear to be made by someone else, because that's exactly what counterfeiting is.
        • "The problem being solved there is the opposite of the problem here. By tagging your stuff with the DNA, you are saying that it is yours. A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. "

          No, it isn't. Not completely, anyway.

          If you can show that the DNA marker is not "unique", you defeat its entire purpose. So spraying it around is actually an effective countermeasure.

        • " A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. "

          Further, there's another use here: by getting one of those cheap PCRs and copying the "signature" DNA, you can make copies of the product and sell them as "genuine"... after all, the tag shows up as an "individual, unique" number in the "national database" that the company keeps.

          Far from being much in the way of security, this actually hurts the consumer because what they really get is a false sense of security. It's security theater, not much better than that of the TSA.

    • "We all know it's very difficult for DNA to be replicated, and it certainly isn't self-replicating, so it's not as if some party could obtain the DNA, replicate it, and then place it on their counterfeit product."

      Do I detect a note of sarcasm? :)

      The comments say you can get a used PCR thing for less than $1000. I wasn't too sure, so I looked.

      Sure enough, it looks like Ebay is a pretty good source. [ebay.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 26, 2013 @10:23PM (#44967339)

    DNA doesn't hold up well in the environment. The reason it's used as a "measure of identity" is because we have really good technology for amplifying it.

    When used as a marker in a commercial/industrial/everyday-exposure environment, I think it will fail quickly

    Ironically, when discussing counterfit purses, there is already a better option that will not fail: you can sequence the proteins in the leather fairly easily, and those proteins can be a good MOI when you get enough coverage of the right sequences. You can't amplify the proteins, but the sensitivity for unamplified material is top-notch. So you can imagine that it's possible to identify the exact cow that produced a purse, and so long as you have a physical scrap of the purse left, you can still get a result. Contrast this to a DNA-barren purse because it sat in the sun too long.

    Since you can't really amplify proteins, it's somewhat counterfit-proof as well, and the detection is less stochastic than with DNA, so it has potential to be more quantitative at trace levels.

    Obviously this technology has other applications as well, which is why it's being funded by the FBI (forensics), DoD (body ID), etc. You can read more about it by looking up work by Glendon Parker, although it's not 100% public yet due to IP concerns, privacy (working with human samples), etc.

    • Ironically, when discussing counterfit purses, there is already a better option that will not fail: you can sequence the proteins in the leather fairly easily, and those proteins can be a good MOI when you get enough coverage of the right sequences. You can't amplify the proteins, but the sensitivity for unamplified material is top-notch. So you can imagine that it's possible to identify the exact cow that produced a purse, and so long as you have a physical scrap of the purse left, you can still get a result. Contrast this to a DNA-barren purse because it sat in the sun too long.

      Man ... if it's that good of a counterfeit that you need to go to this level, then who cares?

      I'm assuming that nobody intends to breed their purses, so sheesh. Does pedigree matter that much?

      • Just you wait 'til the rich trash gets a whiff of that, and the next fad will be leather from certain animals with pedigree.

  • Earlier this year, we heard about a gun and a fogging system

    Pretty sure I heard about it last century.

  • This is taken from a top secret paper titled-

    "Advances In The Arbitrary Production of Guilt in Innocent Individuals- On The Way To Jury-Proof Convictions.

    I'd link you you to it, but that would make me a leaker.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

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