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    Fighting Fraud With DNA

    Ben Liang goes to work every morning fully aware that his efforts will be directly combating counterfeiting and piracy.

    The type of security that he and his associates provide does involve weapons, just not the kind that are fastened in a holster. He does conduct investigations, just not the kind that involves tracking money orders or interrogating a witness. And he does use technology to solve a case, but not secure frequency radio transmissions and laser-sighted guns.

    When Liang steps into his office, he comes fully equipped with a microscope, DNA segments and a plethora of items ranging from wool products to fine wine, in order to protect against fraud.

    Since 2005, Liang has been an employee of Applied DNA Sciences, Inc., and is currently the company’s chief technology officer. Applied DNA is housed at the Long Island High Technology Incubator on the Stony Brook University campus.

    Currently, Applied DNA is heading the charge in what hopes to be the next phase of authentication and validation of products. Its technology has already been successfully used to mark approximately one billion items, including DVDs, CDs, fine art, wines and many other items.

    According to the 2005 Document, Product and Intellectual Property (DOPIP) Global Counterfeit and Piracy Report, there is over $283 million worth of clothing and accessories worldwide that are fake.

    Additionally, the report stated that each year there is over $12 million worth of counterfeit fragrances and cosmetics circulating the world’s markets.

    Members of Applied DNA believe that their version of defense can serve as a secure and cost efficient complement to other forms of security on consumer products, like barcodes, watermarks and holograms.

    “Our DNA technology is used as a last defense to prevent the counterfeiting of many products, like DVDs,” said Liang. “This ensures that I’m actually getting what I’m paying for. It gives the buyer proof that the product is authentic.”

    The method used by Liang and his associates involves using DNA segments from everyday plants to verify the authenticity of a product.

    This process occurs in several steps.

    The initial phase includes an encryption system that is used to isolate strands of the plant’s DNA. In the next phase, these strands are reconstructed into encrypted “DNA chimers” whose sequences are known only to the researchers. The DNA chimers are then covered with a protective coating that can be identified for centuries after being applied to a product.

    Finally, an embedding process allows the DNA markers to be inserted into various substances such as inks, dyes, glues and threads.

    “In order to get around the DNA marker you need to have the primer that matches the unique DNA,” Liang said. “The effort and expense that comes with recreating the DNA segments makes our defense very difficult to copy.”

    Liang currently leads a company project called the Cotton Project. This research is aimed at developing the first generic test to tell the difference between the two primary types of cotton, Pima and upland, in mature textiles and fibers. Pima cotton typically has fibers that are much stronger and longer than the fibers of upland cotton.

    Prior to eight months ago, there was no definitive scientific process to distinguish between the two types.

    “When the cotton fibers are turned into a product you can’t tell which type of cotton is being used from its physical texture,” Liang said. “Many companies are hiding the quality of their cotton products. At first, it’ll feel like Pima, but after a few washes the treatment wears off and the upland cotton reveals itself.”

    In the past, most of the players in the cotton industry believed that the original DNA from the cotton fibers couldn’t survive the process of turning those fibers into textiles, namely articles of clothing and towels. Applied DNA, however, is erasing this belief.

    Liang’s team discovered that portions of the original cotton DNA is recoverable, even after hundreds of washes. They were able to extract DNA from the dead cotton cells and then compare it to DNA samples of Pima and upland fibers.

    Supima, a trademark for American Pima cotton, hired Applied DNA in September of 2007 to prove that its technology works. If Liang and Applied DNA receive favorable results from this process, they will simultaneously be working to quell the counterfeiting of cotton products in America.

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