A Look at Produce DNA-Spray
LIVERMORE, CA – Can you use your smartphone to tell if the produce item you are about to eat is GMO or organic? The answer is maybe someday soon.
DNATrax, an odorless, tasteless, DNA-infused spray that can trace food and other objects back to their origins like an invisible, uncounterfeitable bar code, has been developed at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, according to the Contra Costa Times (CCT).
According to DNATrek, the material can be sprayed on produce items like apples, oranges, and spinach, either at the farm or on the food supply chain, that will create a biological market that contains information like where it was farmed, the date it was picked and where it was processed. The selling point is that the sequence cannot be removed, altered or reproduced.
It was initially created to expose gaps in biodefense, but has since been licensed to the Livermore startup DNATrek and is proving to have a wealth of unexpected applications.
“It’s shifting the paradigm,” Anthony Zografos, DNATrek’s Founder and CEO, tells the CCT. “It uses this diversity that exists in nature to now encode other information, whether this is traceability or something else in the future.”
The edible material is made from a mixture of powdered sugar and a small amount of DNA that has been ruled safe by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive in 2014, according to the CCT. When released in powdered form, it travels like a dust clout, with each particle carrying a unique DNA sequence that can be traced back to its source like a fingerprint.
Zografos continued, “It doesn’t need to be visual anymore. It doesn’t need to be something that is scanned electronically…It’s like the invention of ink. This is another form of ink that now enables a whole new field of applications, some of them we haven’t even thought of.”
The CCT reports that lab tests using the spray on produce items transported from Oakland to Livermore proved successful in matching the food with its origins, even after several weeks.
This type of traceability is being heralded as a way to combat any foodborne illness. The machine could take about an hour to identify all of the date encoded in the spray, including the origin, which could take weeks or months to determine.
“It allows you to contain the economic impact,” Zografos said. “But you can also prevent occurrence and protect public health because you can zoom into the actual root cause quickly and address it whole the tracks are still there.
According to Zografos, consumer applications may arrive within a year. I will certainly be keeping my eye on this developing technology.