MDA wants to upgrade anti-counterfeiting plant DNA process

Applied DNA Sciences uses botanical DNA to provide authentication and protect the DOD supply chain from bogus electronics.

Counterfeit electronic parts continue to present a significant problem for the Defense Department as fake components raise espionage concerns and possibly threaten lives—soldiers in battle are counting on their equipment to be reliable and dependable.

DOD’s Missile Defense Agency is looking to improve one technique that could significantly secure supply chains: marking components with plant DNA.

Applied DNA Sciences (APDN) recently announced a $975,000 contract with MDA for a research project that could eventually expand the company’s DNA authentication technology to as many as 100 electronic component manufacturers. The new research seeks to develop more efficient methods of applying the technology and the development of an optical reader for rapid authentication.

APDN’s SigNature DNA product uses engineered plant DNA to mark components with individualized sequences of genetic code. Once applied, the mark is nearly impossible to wash off and can be embedded into carriers such as metal coating, laminates, ink, varnish and thread. The customized sequences of DNA used in the process can also allow companies to have their own distinctive marks.

"That mark is specific either to a period of time or a specific facility at that company," Judy Murrah, CIO of Applied DNA Sciences, told Popular Mechanics. "One company might have four different facilities and may want four different marks for those locations, or they may want different marks for any given year. They'll always know where in their own production facilities and when that part was marked."

The marks can be initially detected using an ultraviolet flashlight. Once detected, a spectral reader is used to determine if the mark is from SigNature DNA. If there are concerns about counterfeiting, the mark can be swabbed and sent back to an APDN laboratory for analysis.

DOD has required all manufacturers and distributors that want to sell microcircuits to the Defense Logistics Agency to mark their products the APDN technology since August 2012, GCN reported. The new contract could increase the number of companies that use APDN’s DNA marking from 30 firms to 100 firms.

Counterfeit parts, especially microelectronics, could lead to degraded system performance and endanger soldiers’ lives. A 2011 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation discovered nearly 1,800 cases of counterfeit components being used in U.S. weapons and nearly 1 million suspected fake parts in the defense supply chain. Many of the counterfeit parts could be traced back to China.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also looking to protect DOD from counterfeit components with its Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense (SHIELD) program. Rather than using DNA, SHIELD is attempting to develop microscopic dyes that could be scanned and authenticated and would be so inexpensive it would deter counterfeiting in the first place.