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Living During the Dawn of DNA Authentication

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From Bioscience Expert Patrick Cox - The Most Life-Changing Book You'll Read This Year - Click Here

February 27, 2015

The biotech revolution continually surprises me. Exponential increases in computer technologies are powering biotech progress in ways that I never imagined.

Among the most unexpected developments, the result of rapidly improving analytical bioinformatics, is the emergence of remarkably effective “supplements” that I talked about last week. Because these molecules fix systemic problems associated with breakdowns in our biological systems due to aging, they act suspiciously like panaceas, which of course we have always known do not exist; unless they do.

Another of my favorite surprises is Stanford University’s AVAcore thermoregulatory biotechnology, which increases the effectiveness of physical training as much as a pretty strong dose of steroids but without the side effects. I’m not sure I mentioned it, but the German World Cup team bought and used dozens of the AVAcore devices before and during their successful Cup run. No sports team in the world is more scientifically sophisticated or well-funded than the German World Cup team, so this is very cool.

I actually knew that Die deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft were using AVAcore, but couldn’t talk about it. The team didn’t seem to want word of their secret advantage leaking, but a sports writer for the UK Telegraph broke the news, so I feel free to point it out. According to the article, England passed on the use of the technology because the team’s scientists wanted more time to do tests. It’s too bad. I like England and doubt they’ll make that mistake again.

For those of you who use AVAcore, I’ve heard a rumor that the German scientists found that recovery from vigorous exercise is faster if the device is used on the left hand at heart level with the feet elevated. This makes sense since the arterial distance from the hand to the heart is shorter on the left than the right. Once more, I have no financial arrangement with AVAcore, but I am an unapologetic fanboy because I’m making gains that you’re just not supposed to make at my age.

Various academic studies have shown AVAcore accelerates gains in multiple populations for aerobic as well as anaerobic activity. In my case, my gains may also have something to do with the supplements I discussed last week. Mr. Mauldin, by the way, is getting absolutely buff. Regardless, recent research shows that physical strength is the fitness metric that correlates most strongly with life expectancy so I’m happy to be getting stronger.

Equally surprising to me is the arrival of absolute physical authentication. If I hadn’t been involved in encryption technologies in the early days of the Internet, the value of authentication might not have been so obvious to me. Typically, when I explain to people the importance of physical authentication, the ability to accurately determine the identity of a thing, there’s a learning curve.

Back when the Internet was being born, and I was consulting at the seminal Netscape Communications, the problem of authentication posed a huge problem for those who wanted to do business via the Web. Obviously, online commerce wouldn’t be possible if we couldn’t be sure where data comes from. Simple password technologies work fine in many cases. In more important instances, such as the transfer of money, we rely on various strong encryption technologies to authenticate the players in financial transactions.

The ability to know with complete confidence the provenance and identity of physical objects is just as valuable, but it’s never really been possible before. Counterfeiters, especially those backed by organized crime, have proven themselves amazingly capable of passing off fakes as the real thing.

This has created an enormous problem. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the global economy, well over a trillion dollars a year, is lost to counterfeiting. Even if this estimate is high by a factor of two, it’s still useful for conceptualizing the scope of the counterfeit problem. Moreover, many sectors most impacted by counterfeiting have significant implications in terms of public safety.

The World Health Organization says that the 10 percent of drugs that are fake are causing serious problems. WHO cites research indicating that 200,000 people die annually due to fake malaria drugs alone. Counterfeit chips also pose health threats if they appear in automobiles, airplanes or military computers. Significant numbers of fake chips have, in fact, been found in all these applications.

Experts say that about 30 percent of the chips in your computer are probably counterfeit, accounting for a disproportionate percentage of failures. Think about that the next time your computer goes down. There’s better than even odds that it’s because someone’s slipped a shoddy chip into the supply line somewhere.

Counterfeiting is also an enormous problem in many agricultural sectors. The highest-end cottons and wools as well as coffees are replaced with cheaper substitutes at an astonishing rate; perhaps as high as 10 times the actual supply.

For the military, counterfeit chips are not just a safety issue, though they are that. Foreign intelligence services have long had espionage programs dedicated to inserting altered chips into military supply lines. These chips have also been found in consumer products ranging from USB thumb drives to vaping devices. They can be used to plant malware designed to gather intelligence or even sabotage critical systems. When you hear discussions of cybersecurity, counterfeit chips are a critical part of the picture.

Now imagine a world where it would be easy to immediately verify the absolute authenticity of any physical item, anywhere and anytime. Well, starting last week, we live in that world. The key is DNA, the densest, most versatile and durable form of information storage in existence. The amount of DNA that would fit on the head of a pin can be encoded with more information than the average physical library.

Today, this property of botanical DNA is being exploited to encode complex authentication information that cannot be replicated or decoded. Coded DNA, unlike mathematical encryption schemes, can’t be broken no matter how many supercomputers are dedicated to the task. Without access to the “key,” encoded DNA bonded to some physical item can therefore provide absolute authenticity. For other techno-geeks, DNA authentication is comparable to the ultimate one-time pad (OTP) and is therefore uncrackable.

Plagued by the problem of counterfeiting in their supply chains, the US military was the first to legally require DNA authentication to protect critical defense systems. Internationally, the high-end cotton and wool industries are rapidly adopting DNA authentication to prevent counterfeiting. In Europe, the technology is being used with incredible success to protect high-value items like jewels, metals, and cash-in-transit.

One of the most important impacts of the deployment of this biotechnology is that it immediately results in much higher detection rates of stolen items as well as conviction of thieves. Criminals count on the ability to resell stolen items. If users can quickly identify a good as stolen, they are unlikely to buy it and the criminal is much more likely to be caught and convicted. This, in turn, has led to dramatic reductions in crime rates wherever DNA authentication has been implemented.

Criminologists know that criminals, especially those involved in organized crime, calculate risks when they plan crimes based on the odds of being caught and convicted. By raising the odds of those outcomes, DNA authentication is able to significantly reduce crime rates. Experience indicates that halving crimes of theft in industries and areas protected by DNA authentication is a realistic expectation.

So let’s go back to the ICC’s estimate of the scope of counterfeiting. Cutting out their inclusion of file sharing, which can’t be stopped, let’s say that 10 percent of the world economy is being degraded by counterfeiting. There’s also, however, the cost of property crime, which is addressable through DNA authentication. It’s difficult to determine what that impact is. The World Bank says, in Facets of Globalization, that property crime accounts for about .5 of GDP in America and three times that in Latin America. There are, however, secondary costs associated with property crime such as law enforcement and penal expenses that account for several percentage points of global GDP. Still, let’s leave the estimate of GDP loss addressable by DNA authentication at 10 percent.

The cost of DNA authentication services is very low compared to the payoffs, which has run 1 to 100 in some applications. Every dollar, euro, or pound spent has returned a hundred. Recently, the ability to read DNA authentication marks moved from the lab to the field. Now, portable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) readers can authenticate products wherever there is a need to validate the identity of some physical item. The actual portable device is the size of a toaster attached to a laptop and can authenticate a marker in less than a half hour.

On a humanitarian level, the benefit that this technology will deliver is enormous. If less than half of counterfeiting and property crime is stopped by DNA authentication, it could reasonably lead to an improvement of three or four percent to the world economy over time, which would be compounded on an annual basis permanently. This is a historic technological leap for our species and I think the emergence of an authenticated economy will be a hallmark of the 21st century.

Patrick Cox
Patrick Cox
Editor, Transformational Technology Alert

Mauldin Economics


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