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The Pentagon combats counterfeiters with plant DNA

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Many private businesses struggle to keep counterfeit electronic parts from ending up in their equipment. Even the U.S. military is susceptible. To combat this threat, the Pentagon has started implementing a new tactic -- marking microelectronics with DNA. Businessweek reports.

“The global supply chain has resulted in significant efficiencies, but it has also created vulnerabilities to counterfeiters,” explains Defense Logistics Agency spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill. “Counterfeit microcircuits put at risk weapon systems and personnel safety.”

These microcircuits are used in everything from aircraft to medical equipment.

Now, the U.S. military has started requiring suppliers to mark microcircuits with a patented plant-based DNA, called SigNature DNA. These forensic markers are manufactured by New York-based Applied DNA Sciences.

  • SigNature DNA is made by extracting the genome of a plant, altering it slightly so it can’t be mistaken for anything that appears in nature. Some additional chemistry is done so that the mark is suitable for whatever environment it’ll be put it in.
  • They’re invisible to the naked eye but show up under UV light.
  • Given the complexity of DNA, each supplier can be given its own highly customized sequence. These can be verified by the military in a lab.
  • The markers can't be replicated or transferred onto different objects, according to an 18-month series of tests.

The Pentagon began the new anti-counterfeiting strategy last November. So far, it’s contracted with 18 suppliers to provide microcircuits marked with custom SigNature DNA, and it’s reimbursing them for the extra costs due to the verification markers.

Applied DNA’s genetic markers have been around since 2008:

  • They’re used in counterfeit prevention for goods like wines and high-end apparel.
  • Banks in Europe mix SigNature DNA into ink bombs used to protect cash-carrying boxes.
  • A new fog-based security system called DNA Fog marks intruders with the forensic material, linking them to the crime scene.

[Defense Logistics Agency via Businessweek]

Image: Applied DNA Sciences

— By on August 15, 2013, 5:03 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure