DNA Technology transforms property marking

The dramatic benefits that DNA has brought to police investigations have now been further extended by a remarkable development of technology. DNA analysis has been introduced to property marking systems. We all have a personal DNA code; now our personal or business possessions can be marked with a DNA code which is truly unique and which can identify ownership when lost or stolen property is recovered.

Marking our property has been a worthwhile activity for some years, especially since most manufacturers ceased to include serial numbers on their products. The traditional methods involve marking the postcode and the house number on items in need of protection. The fact that property is marked in this way means that the police can identify the owner easily when articles are recovered. The police can therefore legally prove the theft from the rightful owner and can thereby overcome one hurdle of the notoriously weak law against handling stolen goods. And the very fact that property is marked in this way can in itself be a deterrent to the thief in the first place. Overt warnings that property is marked have often proved to be an effective deterrent. The thief runs a higher risk of being prosecuted.

Some traditional marking methods have drawbacks, however. The stamping of a postcode on to a cycle frame, for instance, can weaken the metal. Engraving a post code is not appropriate on all materials. Another method, that of using ultra violet pens, can become less effective when the writing wears away over time, or is removed. Sometimes the more determined thieves may find the property marks and deliberately remove them. So the companies involved in selling property marking systems have always been interested in developing new and more secure methods and products.

Stencils for indelible markings have proved very successful (Selectamark issues about 4 million stencils a year) and electronic methods are now well established. Radio frequency identification (RFID), the same sort of technology which you use in your car immobiliser system, is in use to monitor and read secret electronic chips in caravans, boats, motor vehicles, cargo containers and other applications where tracking, identifying and recovering a valuable item is important.

Smart water was introduced on the market several years ago as a method of applying a chemical with a forensic signature which can identify the registered owner of the property.

A new, superior, DNA system has now emerged as an alternative version of this approach.

SelectaDNA is a new product from Selectamark Security Systems plc which has applied DNA principles so that all types of property can be given its own DNA identity. The product comes in a simple 15ml plastic bottle with a brush, enough to mark up to100 items with a single brush stroke. The contents of each bottle has its own unique DNA signature, which is applied to an item in the form of a clear, water-based, non-flammable, low toxic adhesive. The product is specially formulated by a system based on Cyphermark which is based on four distinct chemicals (known by shorthand as A, T, C and G). These four chemicals have two key sequences, whose identity must be known before the unique code sequence can be accessed. The order of these four chemicals in the DNA molecule provides the uniqueness to the DNA string, just as human DNA indicates our own identity. The latest DNA identification technology is employed, allowing amplification and identification in a single assay in a laboratory.

One of the advantages of using the new DNA technology is that it can create an infinite number of unique sequences by using the same chemicals. There will be no need to search for additional components to enable the system to continue to expand.

Extra security is provided within the DNA sequence by the provision of additional “key codes” at the beginning and end of the information sequence. These act as a form of “molecular lock” to prevent unauthorised access or copying. This feature is extremely useful for some applications where a high level of security and confidentiality is required to protect high value branded goods, or the authentication of, say, certain equipment components prone to forgery. A certificate or label on a high value item could itself be forged, for instance, but a forensic “signature” would always be able to authenticate the genuine article.

People can buy a bottle of SelectaDNA with a unique DNA code for marking up to 100 items in their own household for £75 (75p each item), but the product can also come in larger sizes for business or government purposes, where a commercial kit to mark 6000 items, for instance, would cost £1200 (20p per item). The one-off purchase price includes registration on Selectamark’s LPS 1224 database with no annual licence fee involved, and a procedure for changing addresses or registered owners. The office kit includes an ultra violet lamp. The product comes with optional warning stickers to mark individual items, or the outside of premises overtly.

How will anyone else know whether your prized possession has been marked with its DNA? In itself, the adhesive is virtually invisible, but it contains a special tracer which glows blue under an ultra violet light, like other marking systems which the police will come across. The adhesive is white in colour, but it becomes clear when it cures. On light coloured surfaces it will be possible to see microdots which have also been introduced into the product. These microdots are marked using a special photographic technique to give the writing much longer life. Each dot shows a serial number and the database telephone number 0800 169 5373 which will enable the identification of a marked item. Otherwise a small sample can be removed by the police or another Authority and submitted for identification by a forensic laboratory through Selectamark.

Some large-scale users can opt not to have microdots included in the adhesive because of their particular security requirements. Others can choose to have the DNA mixed into paint which will itself then bear the unique identity, and will be capable of being applied in the same way as ordinary paint.

Security companies like Selectamark need to protect their customers’ security carefully, and they have taken care to ensure that their database has been certificated to LPS 1224 standards by the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB).

One of the big advantages of using a marking product like SelectaDNA is that it is virtually impossible to remove traces of it. Identification can be made from tiny traces the size of a pin head, and it will remain in tiny crevices within the surface of materials to which it is applied.

Jim Brown, the chairman of Selectamark, has received enquiries about applying the new product to items ranging from high security paper to scaffold poles. He said,

“SelectaDNA is an exciting new technology and I am delighted to have helped to make it available. We can now mark all items such as antiques and electrical components safely, accurately, and at a very reasonable cost. There is no limit to expansion, and we can routinely make DNA unique to individual households. It is great to think that sophisticated scientific advances are now available to the general public, and can help them cut crime”


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