DNA tells us where your cotton T-shirt was grown

Signal of change / DNA tells us where your cotton T-shirt was grown

By Dorothy Ng / 06 Dec 2016

Along with the rise of blockchain to trace products across their supply chains, we are now seeing that DNA can be used a tool for supply chain transparency.

Applied DNA Sciences is a biotech company that uses plant DNA technology to prevent counterfeiting and ensure authenticity in the supply chain. It has been working in the cotton industry for nine years, with the aim of mapping a trail from finished goods back to where the cotton was first picked.

The company works with two different types of DNA. One is an engineered DNA made from a botanical source that can mark cotton fibres so they are traceable back to their source. The second is the natural DNA found in cotton fibre that allows researchers to identify the cotton species and where it comes from. With the former manufactured DNA, the mark resists wash off even in aggressive industrial treatment baths.

In the next two years, the company aims to improve the accuracy of the DNA tech such that it is forensic-fit and usable in court.

So what?

James Hayward, chief executive of Applied DNA Sciences says he is focusing on the cotton industry because it is one of the most complex supply chains, generating income for over 250 million people, with the crop grown in over 100 countries, and processed in a convoluted multinational system. The probem is that this complicated system hides the embedded issue of child and slave labour, from consumers shopping for impossibly cheap fast fashion.

We need every tool in our kit to make the invisible visible. Beyond the use of plant DNA to trace crops to their source, we are seeing satellites tracking illegal fishing boats, and the carbon dating of traded ivory. How might these different tools complement each other for compounded rigour? Could blockchain intersect with DNA tech for a more complete data set at each stage of the supply chain?

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What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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