Research highlight

Biotechnology: ‘Porcupine’ system tags objects with DNA

Nature Communications

November 4, 2020

A system that uses DNA sequences to ‘tag’ objects, is reported today in Nature Communications. Inspired by how its namesake’s quills stick to things, ‘Porcupine’ could be used for tracking, even on the smallest of objects when RFID tags or QR codes are not suitable. The tags can also be decoded within seconds using a portable device.

Katie Doroschak and colleagues design Porcupine as a molecular tagging system, using a DNA sequence as identification. The DNA tags are made from predefined sequences the authors call ‘molbits’, which can be combined to create unique ‘barcodes’. Each DNA sequence is designed to be read directly from a portable nanopore DNA sequencer to enable on-demand readout in low resource environments. Porcupine is designed to generate a large number of unique tags (approximately 4.2 billion) using basic laboratory equipment. In a proof of principle experiment, the authors were able to reliably encode and then decode within a few seconds the acronym MISL (Molecular Information Systems Lab) using their system.

The authors envision their work being used in situations where existing tagging methods such as RFID tags or QR codes cannot be applied, such as tagging very small items or large quantities of objects, or both. Other uses could include anti-forgery, which requires the tag to be invisible.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-19151-8

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