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Counterfeiting Has Met its Match: DNA Sequence Identification

Aug. 24, 2017
The engineers at Applied DNA Sciences have developed a method of tagging products with DNA sequences that are unique and reliable.

Here at Machine Design, we have covered the dangers of counterfeit parts and the stress is puts on engineers. In our Salary and Career Annual Survey, concerns about the quality and accuracy of production parts are fourth on our top 10 list of engineering worries. Keeping track of legit parts is difficult, and counterfeiters have been able to reproduce stamps, barcodes, and all other types of serial marking in attempts to identify certified parts. Thanks to Applied DNA Sciences, however, the solution may be at hand.

DNA Tagging of Parts

Applied DNA Sciences has developed a process where a DNA tag known as “SigNature DNA” is added to a product to help identify the part. The company got their start back in 2009 when they introduced the DNA tag to government agencies and companies in the industry. The DNA sequence can be introduced at different steps of the supply chain, including the raw materials (metals, oils, fibers, etc.), components, finished goods, and packaging.

The DNA sequence is based on plant DNA; is resistant to tampering, wear, and erosion; and is extremely accurate. The DNA tag is resistant to several environmental and operating hazards. These include UV radiation, heat, cold, vibration, and abrasion, and even industrial baths and extreme environmental conditions. The DNA tag has been used as forensic evidence in a court of law, resulting in more than 100 convictions by law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom since 2009.

The DNA tag has also never been copied. The scientists at Applied DNA Sciences developed the sequence with an engineered mark featuring layers of protection and complexity, which prevent it from being broken or copied. In 2010, they received a three-month subcontract on behalf of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to prove the feasibility of DNA sequencing tagging.

As part of the validation of the tag for the DLA, Applied DNA Sciences underwent a three-month challenge against an independent lab hired by the DLA. The independent lab took 500 microcircuits marked with the SigNature DNA and attempted to produce counterfeits. Applied DNA Sciences then had to identify which parts were real, and which ones were counterfeited. The result was 100% accuracy in determining the real DNA tagged parts from the counterfeits. 

The first applications of the DNA tagging were used for microcircuits. Since then the DNA tag has expanded to several markets. It is being used for lubrication oil in bearings; electrical components like semiconductors; gasket materials; pipes and tubing; vehicle components such as brakes and wheels; and engine accessories like fuel systems and aircraft assemblies. The tagging is also expanding into consumer properties like drugs, textiles, and clothing materials such as paper- and wool-based products.

The Future Goals of SigNature DNA

The future goal of Applied DNA Science is to provide tracking capabilities of your parts. The company currently offers an onsite testing kit. The SigNify IF is a portable DNA reader that provides real-time authentication of the molecular tags. Per run, it can test up to 16 samples and multiple machines can run simultaneously. The device connects directly to a computer through a USB or Ethernet connection for onsite results.

The long-term goal for Applied DNA Sciences is to use the DNA tagging technology as a platform to be able to track the parts throughout the entire supply chain. Its “Certainty Platform” would be a three-step process: first, marking the part with the DNA; second, being able to perform in field-testing of the DNA via the SigNify IF; and third, making the parts traceable. The traceability would be achieved through a cloud-based portal tracking from when the DNA is sent to the customer throughout all the different nodes of the supply chain.

The overall goal of Applied DNA Sciences is to unify industries against counterfeiting. “Industries are starting to come together, and it’s one of our big messages,” said Janice Meraglia, Applied DNA Sciences’ vice president of Government and Military Programs. “If the major companies would come together instead of fighting each other for the market share, they can reclaim the 30% of the counterfeit market. The whole industry becomes larger, the companies win back market share, and the industry becomes safer.”

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