Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Biowell chips ready to fight piracy

BIOTECHNOLOGY The firm's DNA chips can be put on products that are commonly targeted by counterfeiters, serving as a security device for a wide range of products

By Dan Nystedt  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwanese biotechnology firm Biowell Technology (博微生科) is poised to launch a bio-chip which contains strands of DNA inside, to help fight crime.

"It's not a semiconductor, it's not for use in a computer, it's a DNA chip. It's use is in protecting name-brand goods from copycats," said Hsu Han-wen (許瀚文) spokesman for Biowell.

Since no two organisms in the world carry the same DNA, including identical twins, this technology is fool proof, Hsu said.

The fingernail-sized DNA chips are placed on products commonly targeted by counterfeiters, useful in Taiwan, which has a high rate of credit-card fraud.

Inside the DNA chip is a strand of DNA, a unique and complex sequence of genetic information which cannot be copied, and is readable by a machine Biowell also produces. The company is waiting for patents to clear before launching the chips, and expects to have them out within the next few months.

The firm pointed to credit cards as a possible target market for its new DNA chips, boasting the DNA would make credit card fraud entirely a thing of the past.

Taiwan ranks as the country with the second highest rate of credit card fraud in the world, according to the National Credit Card Center.

So bad is the credit card copying problem in Asia, Taiwan recently broke the world record for the most counterfeit cards recovered in a single bust. In May, Kaohsiung police confiscated 160,000 fake credit cards. The previous record was 20,000 fake credit cards seized in Guangzhou, China in 1996.

Credit cards are not the only products targeted by Biowell's new DNA technology. Last year, the company teamed up with another Taiwanese firm, Markwin, to create "DNA labeling."

This process involves mixing the DNA information directly into products, not just in the form of an encapsulated chip containing DNA, like the DNA chip announced yesterday.

Company researchers mixed fixed DNA strands into materials such as paper, plastic, paint or ceramics. So far, they have found almost 20 different materials suitable for binding with DNA.

The tandem even offered to allow the government to use this technology for free when printing money. DNA strands inside money would eliminate the need for some of the special transparent images and other anti-counterfeit devices found on New Taiwan dollars.

Companies interested in using the DNA chip for their products first work with Biowell to select a strand of DNA, then Biowell keeps a databank of which strand identifies which product.

They suggested personal digital assistants, mobile phones, and other often stolen goods could also be implanted with DNA chips, for identification purposes.

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