Imagine taking the Sunday edition of the New York Times, cutting out every single word, one by one, and stacking them in a completely random order to form a pile about three and a half feet high. Now add to these other words in a language only you know and then create one single sentence from the entire stack by selecting words that only make sense to you.
That is the natural and artificial encryption methodology behind re-sequencing botanical DNA with your own special recipe using additional ingredients. Unless you know the language and the sentence structure and where those additional words in the DNA sequence appear, you cannot hope to clone this hybrid DNA marker.
This is the scientific technique with which Applied DNA Sciences is marking all kinds of valuable goods to protect them against counterfeiters. The process creates a completely traceable path for things like cash-in-transit, materials used in designer clothing, electronic parts, and any other goods that OEMs deem valuable enough to secure against counterfeiting while authenticating the integrity of the original product and source.
I asked the team at Applied DNA Sciences a number of questions in an extended interview. First on my priority list was to find out how foolproof and robust the botanical DNA marker was. Just like many EBN readers, I watch CSI and know that after a period of time, DNA degrades on its own. However, among the patents filed by Applied DNA Sciences is an encapsulation and stacking technique that effectively renders the DNA extremely robust against ultra violet rays and other environmental degradation agents. The stacking structure assures that the DNA can't be tampered with while avoiding detection. There are an infinite number of sequences that can be generated, so the markers are unique per application.
My next question concerned the cost of applying the marker to the materials and the cost of authentication. The cost for applying the DNA impregnated ink, adhesive, or spray is less than a penny per application. A hand-held scanner can quickly detect the presence of the DNA, but if an OEM wishes to authenticate the sequence, the part has to go back to Applied DNA Sciences' Labs for a full lab workup. “Aha,” I said. Here is where things get costly.
In my own research, I discovered the cost for sequencing to be about $1,000. However, because Applied DNA has its own labs and labor force and are interested in high volume deployment, they are able to control costs to make it very affordable. They also indicated that within three to four years, the detection and authentication software and equipment will be managed by a laptop such that it will be very practical for a shipping/receiving department to have the authentication on site as part of their incoming inspection process.
This was all sounding very good to me, so I asked about IP and how they are protecting their patents and processes. Currently, all the authentication work is being performed by Applied DNA Sciences because only they know what to look for to authenticate. I asked if a company using this technology had to send the sample marked part back to them for verification. They said that for now, this was the case.
It occurred to me that there was a hidden business potential, so I asked, “Are you going to set up labs around the world?” Bingo! That is just what they are planning to do to increase their market reach and make it more viable for companies around the world to use their services. But the laptop-size equipment is on the way and it will be linked to the cloud for rapid marker authentication. So, the IP remains the IP of Applied DNA Sciences. The servers that will link to the cloud will be under Applied DNA's control.
I am beginning to think that this is the anti-counterfeiting strategy of the future. If the cost and access of authentication continues to drop, and the botanical DNA can truly not be cloned, along with the fact that there are little to no restrictions on the kind of surfaces associated with various application media — including metal — to which the marker can be affixed, and we have virtual environmental ruggedness, then who is to say that this won't be the straw that breaks the counterfeiter's back.
I indicated in an earlier article that I would give the bad guys something to worry about in a subsequent article. I think I have kept that promise: Applied DNA Sciences is already proven by the military, selected manufacturers like Altera and Micron, and tier-one distributors, which have tested and endorsed botanical DNA marking as an effective countermeasure. So far, the testing has been 100 percent reliable, and now it is only a matter of time before we see widespread deployment of this technology. I like it when the good guys win.