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DoD Using Plant DNA To Combat Counterfeit Parts

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the mother-nature-has-all-the-answers dept.

Biotech 39

smitty777 writes "Highlighting another unique way to use cutting edge DNA technology, the U.S. Department of Defense has a new weapon in its efforts to combat counterfeit parts: plant DNA. This article at Wired discusses how plant DNA can be used to make an almost unique code (1 in 1 trillion) for parts identification. A graphic shows some of the ways this could be done: bolts with DNA-marked coating, invisible bar codes, and fluorescing inks are some of the possible applications. In a similar but unrelated project, World Micro has a different solution to detect counterfeit items in the military that have been 'blacktopped,' where items have been re-surfaced to allow remarking."

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Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38768774)

If a sample could be taken could the DNA not be recreated?

Military contracting is THE big business with a lot of profit incentive to counterfeiters, no matter how expensive this process might be now I'm pretty sure this is not going to be all that effective in the long run.

A better to battle counterfeiting might be to make military spec equipment a lot less profitable... *cough*

Re:Um... (4, Informative)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38768970)

If a sample could be taken could the DNA not be recreated?

The main idea behind counterfeit parts is taking parts that are inferior, salvaged, or even a part in the same package but different functionality and passing it off as a more expensive part. If the cost of the counterfeit approaches the cost of the real part, there is no incentive. There are counterfeit parts targeted at specific industries or military parts that the DNA concept may not slow down.

Military contracting is THE big business with a lot of profit incentive to counterfeiters, no matter how expensive this process might be now I'm pretty sure this is not going to be all that effective in the long run.

Most of the counterfeit stories you hear about are where fake parts wound up in military applications rather than counterfeits specifically targeting the military. There is a high incident in aviation too. Why? Because these applications are low volume yet very long lived, and manufacturers move to new revisions or even quit producing the components for systems still in use. Contractors buy parts from brokers and other places where the pedigree of a part cannot be ascertained.

A better to battle counterfeiting might be to make military spec equipment a lot less profitable... *cough*

Military contracts are lucrative, but the profit margins are probably not what you think they are. Most of the reason the equipment costs more is due to the specifications it must meet coupled with the relatively low volumes the military consumes.

Solution (2)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769688)

Go to war! That will make the military buy more stuff, so it will become cheaper and fraud isn't profitable anymore.

Re:Um... (4, Informative)

TopSpin (753) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770404)

The parent is largely correct. Counterfeit parts get into the DOD supply chain by way of the suppliers of suppliers (of suppliers...,) some of whom obtain and resell parts that have been salvaged in China and other hell-holes, or repackaged from lower cost/capability parts elsewhere. There are Chinese villages, such as those in Guiyu [wikipedia.org] , that do nothing but dismantle and salvage electronics in open air cesspools. Some fraction of these gets refaced and imported, duty free, into the US as counterfeit.

When the DOD investigates suppliers to determine the origin of counterfeit components they typically uncover a chain of 4-5 or more suppliers leading back to China. The Senate Armed Services committee held a hearing on this about 10 weeks ago. Video here. [c-spanvideo.org]

Almost no one is ever prosecuted for anything. Those few importers that are caught will fold up and re-appear under new names. The big contractors that ultimately source and install counterfeit parts pull whatever strings they must to minimize consequences to their business. They'll typically negotiate some replacement schedule and pay a nominal fine. Sometimes they even get to bill the US for the cost of placing counterfeits they installed.

Auto and construction too? (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38771046)

There is a high incident in aviation too.

I would expect auto and construction too. Basically any industry that requires high quality components for safety and/or durability.

Re:Um... (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769158)

If a sample could be taken could the DNA not be recreated?

Yes, absolutely. Creating short stretches of DNA with known sequences is well established technology. All you need to get a 1 in a trillion DNA sequence is 20 base pairs (4^20 > 1 trillion). Oligonucleotides of that length can be custom designed and purchased for a few bucks.

Re:Um... (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769760)

Yes, but I believe arranging the sequence is the trick. That's like saying you have a briefcase with 20 keys...

Re:Um... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38773610)

That's what I meant when I said 'custom designed'. Any arbitrary sequence you want to replicate can be had for a few bucks.

Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38772400)

would you be able to use a project like this to do it? http://openpcr.org/

Re:Um... (2)

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#38773144)

Poster is correct. Taking a DNA sample of an existing bacode, determining the sequence, and generating new DNA is trivially easy and cheap. There is an even quicker and cheaper way though - take a sample of the DNA in the barcode, and amplify it to make more. DNA has this remarkable ability to self-replicate. All you need to do is put the sample of the barcode in a PCR machine (pro hint - many labs are junking their 'old' PCR machines as new better one come out, so you can do this for next to nothing in your basement if you spend a little on reagents). The PCR machine cycles the temperature of the sample, causing the DNA sample to replicate exponentially - 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 copies - doubling every cycle approximately. In no time at all you have more copies than you can shake a stick at. It's almost as easy as copying bits.

Re:Um... (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769648)

I think the operational phrase here is "if a sample could be taken". I'm assuming that since the military doesn't want folks to find out what the sequence is, they probably have their own secret strain of algae/moss/bamboo/whatever that's locked away in a lab somewhere. Swab it off the top of the bolt? I'm sure they thought of that.

According to this whitepaper [adnas.com] , the DNA sequencing is "unequivocally uncopyable".

Re:Um... (3, Interesting)

RDW (41497) | more than 2 years ago | (#38773270)

According to this whitepaper, the DNA sequencing is "unequivocally uncopyable".

A bit further on, they only say 'resistant to reverse engineering or replication', which is probably closer to the truth. Here's a patent filed by the company, which looks like it might be referring to the same technology:

http://www.google.com/patents/US20100285985 [google.com]

My reading of the simplest version of this is that they take some target DNA (e.g. derived from a plant genome, and possibly cut up and re-ligated to swap things around), and design a single 'forward' PCR primer and multiple 'reverse' primers that bind the target sequence at various positions. They retain the forward primer and template DNA , and paint the object to be protected with a pooled selection of the reverse primers (different objects or companies could use different selections of reverse primers).

To authenticate an object, they extract DNA from the object (i.e., the pool of reverse primers) and mix it together with their single forward primer, template, and standard PCR reagents. Running the PCR gives them a series of amplification products of defined sizes (determined by the selection of reverse primers), which effectively 'fingerprint' the object. To make things difficult for a forger, the pool of primers painted on the object will probably contain a complex mixture of confounding sequences that don't bind the target sequence, and there may also be multiple genuine primer sets designed to different target sequences. Since the forger won't have access to the target sequence(s), they'll have no way of knowing which primers are important, and will therefore have to determine the sequence of all of them and then have them re-synthesised.

tl;dr - Replicating the label is not trivial.

Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38769980)

Yes, but tell that to the gun runners in the Sub-Saharan desert or South American forest.

Anything can be broken in the theoretical world. In the real world, sometimes good enough is good enough.

Counterfeit parts are a real problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38768778)

One place I worked had a number of "counterfeit" bolts that did not meet spec. Bolts use a pattern on the top to identify the manufacturer and in this case the they were not made by the company whose symbols they bore. They had to be pulled and replaced with higher quality bolts which could deal with the necessary stresses.

Re:Counterfeit parts are a real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38771836)

"They had to be pulled and replaced with higher quality bolts which could deal with the necessary stresses."

And before fixing the bolts, you'll have to wait for the DNA results with this new method?
Or is it just as it is now, if the plane falls down, they can point the finger at 'fake parts'?

Old hat (4, Interesting)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38768872)

Joe Barbera (animation producer/director, half of the Hanna-Barbera team) a long while back had a pen with ink with his own DNA embedded in it made; it's his "autograph" pen [faqs.org] .

Old news from someone smarter than the a-ver-age bear...

Re:Old hat (1)

Idbar (1034346) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770488)

But, but... You don't get it, the next sony movie player our game console will have this type of DDRM (as in DNA analysis capable DRM) so they can force you to watch their annoying ads at the beginning of any movie/game you buy or rent! It's an awesome idea!

Re:Old hat (3, Funny)

RajivSLK (398494) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770542)

Strange, my pen is capable of producing DNA. However,I haven't yet acquired the dexterity to make autographs with it yet.

Re:Old hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38771510)

Strange, my pen is capable of producing DNA. However,I haven't yet acquired the dexterity to make autographs with it yet.

Playing more with your pen is something you could try to acquire DEX.

Re:Old hat (3, Funny)

unitron (5733) | more than 2 years ago | (#38772380)

Strange, my pen is capable of producing DNA. However,I haven't yet acquired the dexterity to make autographs with it yet.

Not even by writing in the snow?

Re:Old hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38771896)

"Joe Barbera (animation producer/director, half of the Hanna-Barbera team) a long while back had a pen with ink with his own DNA embedded "

I made people sign their contracts with me with their own red DNA-ink for thousands of years.

Lord of the Flies.

"Counterfeit Parts"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38768880)

Right, like how a lot of laser printers print faint yellow dots on all pages for tracking purposes, as part of a deal with the US Secret Service to stop "counterfeiters".
https://www.eff.org/issues/printers

I don't get it (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38768942)

Isn't now child's play to replicate DNA and put it where you wish (also coming soon to corrupt cops near you)? They may even be qualitfied vendors, but rubber stamping a component doesn't mean the innards are what they should be (including ghost circuitry lovingly crafted by PRC military hackers).

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38769048)

I was thinking more along the lines of tissue culturing the plants, or heck, even taking a cutting. One theft from wherever the plants are being grown and the counterfeiters can just grow their own. Its not like there isn't a whole industry devoted to growing certain plants that the authorities don't want you to have or anything...

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38769684)

Depending on the part a plant at a salvage plant could easily get you a sample.

Ok, this raises the bar a little but... (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769054)

1) Buy one good part
2) Buy one PCR machine
3) Buy a bazillion counterfeit parts
4) apply PCR'ed DNA to counterfeit parts
5) Profit!

Re:Ok, this raises the bar a little but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38769734)

You can't PCR an unknown sequence, gotta design the primers first. This article is so vague that I cannot even begin to ponder how it actually works, and I'm halfway through a PhD in molecular biology, I should add.

Re:Ok, this raises the bar a little but... (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770732)

You can't PCR an unknown sequence, gotta design the primers first.

This article is so vague that I cannot even begin to ponder how it actually works, and I'm halfway through a PhD in molecular biology, I should add.

I thought that the whole point of PCR is that you can.

Re:Ok, this raises the bar a little but... (2)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 2 years ago | (#38771192)

it's been a while, but i think that for PCR you need to know the flanking sequences. you don't need to know the "middle", but you need the primer to match the ends.

that said, it seems that even with just PCR you could do dimensionality reduction on the code sequence... i.e. if you try PCR with an arbitrary primer, and it amplifies significantly, then you have some information about the sequence. it's not like a crypto key, where it's all or nothing. i suspect that chip-based sequencing and some statistical algos could make quick work of this "code", but like i said it's been a while and the paper provided is... uh... mostly advertising.

The real solution (2)

cowboy76Spain (815442) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769672)

I think another measure stated in TFA will be more efficient: now the contractors will be responsible if they introduce counterfeit parts (even unknowingly) and will not be able to charge the DoD for replacing them. That will ensure that they control quality better (by whatever technical means they chose), probably forcing the same clause on their providers.

Interesting... (2)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38769722)

It's interesting that the idea of using plants for counterfeit detection goes all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, who used the unique vein structures of plant and tree leaves to make hard-to-copy stamps and currency all the way back in the Revolutionary War days!

or the DoD (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 2 years ago | (#38770018)

can stop outsourcing jobs to a country it simultaneously funds and villifies.

pick one or the other guys, because inevitably we either need to face up to the fact that if they are the villain then we've tacidly admitted free trade has failed. if theyre the trading partner, we've tadicly admitted we dont seriously care about liberty or freedom.

Re:or the DoD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38770716)

can stop outsourcing jobs to a country it simultaneously funds and villifies.

pick one or the other guys, because inevitably we either need to face up to the fact that if they are the villain then we've tacidly admitted free trade has failed. if theyre the trading partner, we've tadicly admitted we dont seriously care about liberty or freedom.

Actually the country the US is outsourcing jobs to is funding the US. The US is almost bankrupt.

Re:or the DoD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38770830)

you sub to a dude in the US who subs to another guy who subs to some dude in india who subs to a guy in korea who subs to a guy in china...

That is how it works.

It affect me (1)

hawkingradiation (1526209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38771188)

The strategy used to keep money flowing into the US and now apparently is part of the US DoD now is:
1) Create a standard(s) that is proprietary and somehow ensure that the standard is scarce (that is where the money comes from) so that no one else knows how to create interoperable parts.
2) Create a patent system so that someone else with a different standard, but with the same functionality will not be able to create the same functionality in their products.
How this affects me: Suppose I wanted to create a new product so that it achieves a certain functionality. As a startup, I do not have the money to defend against patent lawsuits, but I do have an idea that is worth developing. I will be hindered by this new regime. The whole point is to make sure those with money (currently a lot of US corporations) to keep getting more money. This to is meant to hinder foreign enterprises using the global reach of US law. Solutions: Use some form of open hardware where the scarcity is not in the idea or knowledge of how to build the product. This rewards efficient manufacturing and promotes the free flowing of information and allows for a more efficient economy because the cost of production has gone down. I would love one day to see the US turn into the next China, by ignoring the rules itself created, and becoming a power house where innovation is rewarded. Furthermore, I would welcome any country to have the confidence that they can compete with the US, and ignore some of this BS that the US is pulling, because the US isn't going to able to to this much longer.

This assumes you care (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38774486)

What if you don't care that you are purchasing a counterfeit or stolen legit component?

Re:This assumes you care (1)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38778515)

What if you don't care that you are purchasing a counterfeit or stolen legit component?

Because the problem is that the counterfeit part is often of a lower quality or spec. You would probably care if that 2.8GHz QuadCore cpu you just bought was really a remarked 2.2HGz chip.

Re:This assumes you care (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781039)

No, that means you do care which was the opposite of what i said.

Some people really don't care if its counterfeited and understand it wont be the same as 'real' since its FAR cheaper.

Why has no one noticed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38776107)

That the story linked to is a PRESS RELEASE???
(that is, a sort of advertisement!!!)

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