PerspectiveSynthetic Biology

Follow the barcoded microbes

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1058-1059
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc4246

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Summary

Tracking where a physical object originated and where it has been, known as object provenance, is becoming increasingly important with the globalization of supply chains (1). Object-labeling technologies that are scalable, robust, and difficult to falsify would support, for example, the mitigation of foodborne illness outbreaks and the manufacture of counterfeit goods. However, there currently exists no single tagging method that satisfies all these requirements. On page 1135 of this issue, Qian et al. (2) describe a new tagging technique, called the barcoded microbial spores (BMS) system, that uses genetically engineered microbes as molecular tags to address the object provenance problem. The authors demonstrate that BMS can label a range of surfaces and persist for months in real-world conditions. Furthermore, they show how this technology can tag objects that come into only brief contact with BMS-labeled surfaces, suggesting the utility of BMS in forensic surveillance applications (3).

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