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.
As explained to us by project manager Tatiana Costa, the "molecular tags" or "molecular barcoded labels" can be made easily and in large quantities. Each tag – or batch of tags, as the case may be – is made of a unique combination of "chimerical molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)."
The non-toxic tags can be applied within a production line to a wide variety of both smooth and irregular surfaces, or inserted into food products or liquids, where they will remain invisible to the naked eye. They are said to stay attached (where applicable) and intact well, and can be easily read using low-cost portable equipment in a fashion not unlike the reading of regular barcodes – so no DNA-sequencing devices are required.
Instead of simply being used to obtain pricing information at a store checkout, however, the tags are intended more as a means of verifying the authenticity of high-value items that could be counterfeited. They could even be combined with ink, to verify someone's signature.
According to the university, the tags couldn't be copied or counterfeited, unlike some other authentication technologies. Additionally, people reading a tag would need to know its original formulation as it was applied, in order to confirm that their reading matched it.
Costa tells us that the system is currently in the prototype phase, and that her team is now seeking business partners to help commercialize the technology.