You steal – you're marked! Smearing DNA on your valuable items

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Don’t want burglars stealing your gear?  Smear it with synthetic DNA and help reduce the burglary rate by more than 50%!  A recent product launch in New Zealand is something called SelectaDNA, which is a synthetic DNA material that can be put onto items you don’t want people to steal and then advertising the fact that you’ve smeared your most precious belongings with it.

The product being marketed seems to combine several anti-theft techniques into one:

  • Microdots onto which are printed unique identifying numbers (and have been used in the past by James Bond and also in real life for storage of secret or sensitive information).  Microdots have been used by the automobile industry for some time now, with the microdots being printed with vehicle details so that if a car is stolen and broken down for parts, microdots on the parts have details on them that can be used to link back to the original vehicle, thus assisting with determining the origin of a given part and confirming if that part was stolen;
  • A SmartWater-type product that glows under UV light and is detectable for weeks or months;
  • A synthetic DNA ‘marker’ in each kit. Each sample kit contains a different DNA marker and is therefore unique to that particular kit;
  • Stickers and other labeling material to announce to the world that items that could be stolen are marked with this material. This is obviously a critical part of the whole kit because if burglars don’t know about it then it won’t put them off burgling your house or stealing your car.

A trial was recently completed in Manurewa, which saw a 61% reduction in burglariesResidents in Martinborough who formed what has been termed a vigilante-type group last year because they were sick of burglaries perhaps should be told about this product, in the hope that they can use a passive method of reducing crime, rather than putting themselves into court.

From a scientific point of view, I’d be interested to know how the synthetic DNA is manufactured, how different each DNA signature is from the rest and how the data is being stored, retrieved and interpreted by the manufacturer. DNA is an extremely powerful evidence type and we all know the powerful impact it has on people’s perceptions of solving crimes. I am interested in the drying time of the product (it is water-based), particularly of the hydrospray – can Police or security services accidentally contaminate things or people around them if they are sprayed or come into contact with surfaces or items? What is the transfer risk once the product has been used to mark an item? Can you transfer the batch number to another person if you sell your marked PS2 on TradeMe?

Although I’m thinking like a forensic scientist, I haven’t tried this product yet but I think I will. If I like it, I know what everyone will be getting for Christmas this year…

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