Applied DNA Sciences leverages plant DNA to create a unique marking and authentication system for product and package security against counterfeiting. A new partnership gives the company a stronger foothold in packaging.
Brand protection is a concern for brand owners who have seen the equity of their own products and those of other brand owners undermined by the high-growth business of counterfeiting.
One of the more fascinating forensic technologies used in this arena is that of deoxyribonucleic acid-based marking and authentication. That mouthful of chemistry is familiar universally as DNA, which is a molecule that encodes the genetic data found in every living organism. One vendor, Applied DNA Sciences (ADNAS), leverages plant DNA to create a unique marking and authentication system for product and package security.
James Hayward, Ph.D., CEO/president of ADNAS, responds to our questions about the technology’s use in packaged products.
How does your technology work in and on packaging?
Hayward: We create unique “forensic ID codes” that can be used to mark a range of primary, secondary and tertiary packaging types. The forensic ID code is powered by our SigNature DNA technology that enables the packager to mark both original packaging and the products themselves. The dual benefit of marking the product and packaging assures quality and security at every step of the supply chain.
Typically, DNA is applied into an ink or varnish carrier for packaging. Also, together with partners like Pillar Technologies (see Pillar Technologies secures DNA authentication for brand protection), we are exploring novel ways SigNature DNA can be integrated into packaging closures, seals, coatings of all sorts and other carriers.
A full portfolio of complementary technologies—such as fluorescent inks, visible and invisible bar coding and an optical marker using “lock and key” components—can be combined to offer the right security level for a customer’s needs.
For what kind of substrates and packaging is it applicable?
Hayward Our unique forensic DNA ID codes are compatible with virtually any type of substrate or package, even those which may not seem obvious, like textiles, extruded films or formed paper or paperboard.
Even substrates or packaging with existing security features can often carry Signature DNA, resulting in a layered security solution, effective in a high-threat environment such as pharmaceuticals. Our partner DISC, for example, has used SigNature DNA as part of its layered PASS Security Packaging suite.
Adding a SigNature DNA security layer can raise existing conventional security to a forensic level. Our DNA marks cannot be copied, nor can they be digitally reproduced or forged. The robustness of the DNA code is the reason it is trusted and used by the U.S. government, where it is required for use on certain electronics supplied to the military. Law enforcement agencies in the U.K. and Sweden rely on it to protect cash and valuables in transit.
In what brand owner segment do you see most of your activity?
Hayward Working with partners like Pillar Technologies, we are targeting pharmaceutics, agrochemical, food, beverage, textiles and publishing.
The solution sets among these verticals varies of course. In some, like pharma and food, the human costs can be very high, and the need and regulatory requirements for security packaging is at critical levels. Both perceived need and regulatory requirements are present. In others, like textiles, we see a negative impact of counterfeiting and dilution, but a gaping lack of countermeasures that are as effective as ours, and a less developed regulatory environment.
What’s the lead time and how much of an investment does this represent for the customer?
Hayward We start with 8 to 10 weeks as a lead-time assumption, and adjust as we move through the discovery process. Implementation normally includes requirements gathering, and initial proposal, DNA marker creation, secure logistics, implementation and documented processes for QC, QA and authentication in the field.
The lead time will vary, of course, with scope. Many projects, for example, are distributed in multiple locations, often worldwide. So a phased ramp-up, in consultation with the customer, is often necessary.
What's an example of a customer implementation in packaging?
Hayward: Our partner Nissha Printing Co. Ltd., a large printer in Japan with global reach, has implemented a food source tracking product and service. Nissha uses SigNature DNA technology in a remarkable project to protect the brands of highly valued fish and other products that have recently been victims of rampant counterfeiting. The new printing system uses "DNA ink" to mark and authenticate labels on the packaging of these high-value fish and other food products.
The background is this: Branded foods from particular and often well-known waters off Japan, and sometimes preserved with traditional, labor-intensive methods, are becoming popular, profitable and necessary in Asia. Counterfeiters and diverters have moved in with force, selling common foods as the high-value brand, destroying markets and reputation of the real item.
Using the new printing system, foods can be instantly verified as genuine in the field, using a special handheld detector to identify the anti-counterfeiting ink. This could happen at the point of sale—or at any point along the supply chain. As is typical of our DNA markers, a second, forensic level of authentication is also available by sending the suspect product to a secure lab.
The system is entirely safe and non-invasive and foods are not altered.