Mist of synthetic DNA that can’t be washed off to help police catch crooks

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By Nick Carne

Deterring would-be thieves and intruders could be as simple as threatening them with a fine mist – albeit a pretty high-tech one.

South Australian company DNA Security Solutions offers tag-and-trace technology that puts a unique DNA marker on a person involved in criminal activity. As the “perp” leaves the scene, a small module above the door, which can be activated from anywhere in the building, sprays him or her with a solution that’s virtually impossible to wash off. It stays on the skin for up to six weeks, longer on clothes, and shows up clearly under ultraviolet light.

And now, thanks to a collaboration between DSS and the Adelaide node of the Australian Genomic Research Facility, it can be easily analysed on common forensic platforms rather than having to be sent away for special testing.

“We’re the first company in the world to have a marketable, commercial DNA solution that forensic departments around the world, like Forensic Science SA, can successfully test for themselves,” said chief executive Tania Jolley. “Police need forensic evidence that links the criminal and the crime scene – and that’s what our product does. And it is still the only product on the market that does that while the crime is being committed.”

DNA Security Solutions Chief Executive Tania Jolley marked with synthetic DNA.

DNA Security Solutions Chief Executive Tania Jolley marked with synthetic DNA.

The system uses synthetic DNA, put together by mathematical algorithms, which means unique lines of DNA code can be created for every individual building. “Having a DNA solution that is specific to a particular site means we can irrefutably, 100 per cent say that the person who has the DNA on them can be connected to that venue,” said Jolley.

The whole idea is as much about deterring criminals as it is about catching them. The key is to let people know the system has been installed; even put a sign on the window.

“We are changing the criminals’ behaviour, getting them to recognise what they are doing is high risk,” said Jolley, who has degrees in business and psychology. “At the moment, the criminals are poking their tongues out at the CCTV cameras and saying ‘we don’t see you [cameras] as high risk, you can’t identify us’.

“Cameras don’t work on their own – you might have a lovely photo of the top of someone’s balaclava – but they work fantastically with our product because the images can show police who they need to look for and point them in the right direction for their investigations.”

And it clearly does work. A tennis club in Queensland was broken into nine times in three weeks before installing a DNA Guardian system. Since then there have been no incidents in three years.

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