Branding breast implants with tomato DNA
Using DNA snippets from tomatoes, researchers hope to identify breast implants in a way that prevents them from being falsified. This will enable them to track down inferior forgeries more quickly.
Brand and product piracy is a worldwide problem. The economic damage is immense: in 2016, German companies alone recorded losses of around 53 billion euros, as a study by management consultants Ernst & Young (EY) shows. The use of such fraud in medicine is particularly problematic. The scandal surrounding inferior breast implants in 2010 showed what health consequences this could have. The French manufacturer Poly Implant Prothèse (PIP) had used cheap industrial silicone to reduce production costs. Numerous women worldwide, including in Germany, were damaged by leaking or burst gel cushions. The legal investigation of the scandal continues to this day, also because such forgeries are difficult to detect afterwards.
Tomato DNA embedded in silicone matrix
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm have now developed a method that can prevent such fraud. A team led by Joachim Storsberg used genetic information snippets to permanently mark breast implants and thus make them forgery-proof. Genetic sequences of the tomato served as markers. "We isolated genomic DNA (gDNA) from tomato leaves and embedded it in the silicone matrix. We have used approved siloxanes, building blocks for silicone products, to manufacture breast implants," explains Storsberg.
DNA sequences are not degraded
Numerous experiments had shown that tomato DNA was the ideal marking material. In order to demonstrate the temperature resistance, the silicone mixed with the encapsulated gDNA was vulcanised for five hours at 150°C. The DNA sequence was then amplified using PCR technology. Gel electrophoresis is then used to visualise the DNA sections present. The researchers reported that the DNA remained stable during the entire procedure and was not degraded.
Fraud detectable by PCR test
According to Storsberg, silicone manufacturers could already introduce the encapsulated tomato DNA sequence during the production of the gel. "He is the only one who knows the DNA used and its concentration. Only then are the components sold to the manufacturer of the actual implant. If the implant manufacturer subsequently extends the components with inferior materials or uses a lower concentration, this can be detected by PCR. In principle, this works like a paternity test," explains Storsberg.
Tomato DNA would make it easier to detect fraud, such as in the production of breast implants. In addition, the method is "virtually free of charge" as the researchers report and is suitable for labelling many other polymer-based implants, such as lens implants.
Artificial DNA has been used for several years by the police and companies such as Deutsche Bahn to mark valuables or metals in order to clear up cases of theft and identify stolen goods.