DoD testing plant DNA to fight counterfeit parts

Thursday - 2/9/2012, 11:48am EST

Janice Meraglia, vice president of military and government programs. Applied DNA Sciences

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With counterfeit electronics flooding the Pentagon's supply chain, the answer to rooting out fakes might come in the form of plant DNA.

The Defense Logistics Agency has completed a pilot program with industry on using botanical molecules in the supply authentication process.

"In this limited demonstration, we wanted to show that microchips could be marked during the production process, which includes high heat and other stressors, and that those marks could later be read," said Chris Metz, director of the Technical and Quality Policy Division for DLA Logistics Operations, in a DLA release.

The pilot marked 20,000 microchips with the DNA, and all of the original parts were authenticated, said Janice Meraglia, vice president of military and government programs at Applied DNA Sciences, one of the companies working with DLA. The agency also worked with Altera Corporation, a microcircuit manufacturer.

Meraglia said plant DNA is at least as complicated as human DNA.

"One molecule of DNA carries a tremendous amount of content that allows us to really safeguard the authentic chip and distinguish real from fake," shes aid.

The DNA, however, does not detect fakes. Rather, it's part of a larger authentication process, Meraglia said.

Plant DNA also is very flexible, and researchers can place it on many parts of the microchips, from the dyes inside the chip to the ink that prints the code on the face of the chip, she said.

The Idaho National Laboratory conducted tests to try to mimic the plant DNA, but were unable to create a counterfeit of it.

"We're very confident that this is not something the counterfeiters will be able to counterfeit at all," she said.

With the early success of plant DNA, DLA is now expanding the pilot to an 18- month program to examine the entire supply chain, Meraglia said.

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