by Tim Hinchcliffe | The Sociable
Microbial spores grown in labs are programmed with unique DNA barcodes that can allow whoever uses them to tag and trace anything along the supply chain, which includes people.
“DNA could be orders of magnitude beyond silicon — perfect for long-term archiving” — Nature, 2016
All of the world’s data could one day be stored in DNA, which, according to Nature, “could be orders of magnitude beyond silicon — perfect for long-term archiving.”
In fact, the storing power of DNA is so great that “if information could be packaged as densely as it is in the genes of the bacterium Escherichia coli, the world’s storage needs could be met by about a kilogram of DNA.”
The incredible storage capacity of DNA is so great that the US intelligence community has been investigating how to unlock its full potential for its own interests, as well as for commercial applications.
“Authoritarianism is easier in a world of total visibility and traceability” — WEF Global Risks Report, 2019
But it’s not just data storage and retrieval that has public and private entities frothing over DNA — it’s also about how efficient DNA can be for tracing entire supply chains.
Here we take a look at DNA barcodes, how they are currently used, and their potential for future abuse, such as spore-powered contact tracing.
Programmable DNA for data storage, retrieval, and tracing
In 2016, researchers at the University of Washington “successfully encoded digital data from four image files into the nucleotide sequences of synthetic DNA snippets.”
Furthermore, “They were also able to reverse that process — retrieving the correct sequences from a larger pool of DNA and reconstructing the images without losing a single byte of information.”
Then in 2018, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) began researching “DNA, polypeptides, synthetic polymers, or other sequence-controlled polymer media” for the purpose of storing and retrieving exabytes of data under the Molecular Information Storage (MIST) program.
But beyond DNA’s game-changing potential for data storage, advancements in biotechnology have reached the point where all living cells can be programmed like computers.
“The world’s storage needs could be met by about a kilogram of DNA” — Nature, 2016
So, not only can DNA store unfathomable amounts of data, but it can also be programmed to perform various functions, such as traceability — whether it be food, conflict diamonds, or people, for example.
For over a decade, both the public and private sectors have been developing new ways to send and receive information via DNA for various purposes, and a technique known as DNA barcoding quickly became a popular method for tracing food supply chains.
One such method used in food traceability requires programming microbial spores (i.e. from seaweed, yeast, or bacteria, etc.) with a unique DNA barcode identifier.
These spores are then killed and sprayed onto food sources, so they can be traced throughout the entire supply chain.
Due to their resiliency even after death, the lab-grown spores can remain on the surfaces of whatever they come in contact with for months without ever degrading.
In this respect, DNA barcodes programmed from genetically modified microbial spores may have the potential to become very effective tools for contact tracing when paired with other technologies.
The spores will inevitably make their way in, on, and around the human body via food, medical treatments, and/or physical contact with a sporulated surface.
“DNA strands drawn from seaweed allows the food and agricultural industries to create and apply unique, edible, flavorless DNA barcodes directly to the food, not the packaging” — SafeTraces
On the regulatory front, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DNA barcoding for use in fish identification for human consumption back in 2011, so that specific application has been FDA-approved for the past decade.
And in May, 2019, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted California-based SafeTraces a US Patent that discloses a novel method for encoding and decoding digital information to and from DNA strands drawn from seaweed.
The patent will allow food and agricultural industries “to create and apply unique, edible, flavorless DNA barcodes directly to the food, not the packaging. These barcodes carry complete source data, stay on the food throughout the supply chain, and can be read in minutes to confirm provenance and purity of any food item,” according to a press release.
How DNA barcodes are made
Citing a study published last year, The Science Breaker recently described in simple terms how one process of DNA barcoding for food traceability works.
“We sprayed these spores onto a surface, thus labelling the surface – and objects that later contact it – with our microscopic barcoded microbial spores” — The Science Breaker, 2021
“First, we grew batches of spores labelled with different barcodes, then killed them to prevent growth. We then sprayed these spores onto a surface, thus labelling the surface – and objects that later contact it – with our microscopic barcoded microbial spores.
“We showed that spores persisted without being degraded for months on surfaces like sand, soil, wood, or carpet, both in indoor and outdoor environments.”
Even though the dead DNA barcoded spores were applied to specific surfaces, they were reported to have spread to just about everything they came in contact with, including humans.
Talk about contact tracing.
“We showed that spores persisted without being degraded for months on surfaces like sand, soil, wood, or carpet, both in indoor and outdoor environments” — The Science Breaker, 2021
“Furthermore, we could recover these spores from shoes and other objects that travel through labelled areas and use them to reconstruct an item’s trajectory,” the report adds.
Can that trajectory include the human body?
Of course it can!
What happens after we eat the DNA barcoded spores?
While The Science Breaker report doesn’t specifically mention what happens after we, the people consume the tagged spores, Christian Westbrook from Ice Age Farmer recently highlighted one company’s great interest in this area.
That company is Aanika Biosciences, and in the video below, Westbrook shares a clip from a Zoom interview in which Aanika CEO Vishaal Bhuyan attempts to answer the question:
“Have you sent spores through the digestive systems of any animals?”
Bhuyan’s stumbling and guarded response reveals a lot:
“That is a great question, and [ye-], that’s a really [goo-, uh], that’s a big area of interest that we’re currently working on. And again, I don’t know if I can say more about it, but there is a huge need for that.
“Because if you think about linking — just in a contamination, you go in, you’re sick — linking the sample, the human sample, to the actual outbreak and the location would basically truncate the time of a recall investigation from like three months to like an hour.”
Video below is time-synched to Bhuyan’s response, but it is recommended to watch the entire video with Westbrook’s commentary for greater context.
So, while the interviewer asked if Aanika had sent spores through animals, it sounded like Bhuyan began to say, “yes,” but then stopped himself, and immediately began talking about DNA barcodes for human consumption and how they could be traced to rapidly find the source of a food-borne illness.
This suggests that not only is there a desire for humans to consume the DNA-barcoded food, but an analysis of human tissues or waste (individual or collective) could also provide significant amounts of data as well.
But it’s not just food supply chains that the biotech company traces with genetically modified spores.
According to the company website, Aanika specializes in DNA barcodes for applications in:
Aanika’s loftier goal is to “leverage nature to generate endless combinations of biological tags,” with the recognition that “all living creatures contain billions of bits of information within their biomolecules.”
While ethics and regulatory practices exist to ensure food safety standards are met, Bhuyan described in the above video that Aanika was able to skirt around EPA regulations by spraying the food post-harvest.
DNA barcoding as a regulated stamp-of-approval & the potential impact on small farmers
While DNA barcoding has already been developed by companies like Aanika, SafeTraces, and others for food safety and various applications, the technology also has the potential to be regulated in such a way that could give more power to major corporations and less to independent farmers.
“These barcodes carry complete source data, stay on the food throughout the supply chain, and can be read in minutes to confirm provenance and purity of any food item” — SafeTraces
As of today, the largest tracts of farming land in the entire United States are owned by one single person, Bill Gates.
If there were ever a deadly food-borne outbreak in the future, policymakers could decide that only “trusted” food suppliers (like Gates) would be allowed, and using DNA barcodes, they could simply outlaw and ban any food that doesn’t have a specific DNA barcode.
Remember when the “Well Health Safety Seal” scheme for rating buildings was endorsed by celebrities and laughed into oblivion by free-thinking individuals on social media?
Another way food could be regulated is that suppliers would have to pay a certain tax or a fee associated with DNA barcodes in order to sell their goods as part of a certified stamp-of-approval in the same vein as the Well Health Safety Seal.
In this hypothetical stamp-of-approval scenario, smaller, independent farmers who couldn’t afford the DNA barcodes would be put out of business in droves.
Alternatively, it could lead to a black market for contraband spores.
Either way, on the heels of a devastating 15-month-plus lockdown, some 40 percent of small businesses have already been wiped out forever while billionaires have profited over $1 trillion and counting since lockdowns began.
Meat is difficult to trace, lab-grown protein is easier
The World Economic Forum (WEF) made a prediction that by 2030, “You will eat much less meat. An occasional treat. Not a staple. For the good of the environment and our health.”
But from another perspective, the push to lower meat consumption is not just about public health and the environment; it’s an agenda that exploits climate change ideologies to push for more economical food distribution that can be tracked and traced with greater efficiency.
According to the WEF report on “Traceability in Food Value Chains” published in January, 2019:
“Meat is difficult to track consistently along the supply chain, because products sourced from different farms often commingle; new supply-chain processes and/or new types of individual identifiers may be needed to overcome this challenge.”
Could those “new types of individual identifiers” include DNA barcodes programmed into microbial spores in a lab?
“Meat is difficult to track consistently along the supply chain […] New supply-chain processes and/or new types of individual identifiers may be needed to overcome this challenge” — WEF “Traceability in Food Value Chains” report, 2019
In his book, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” published in 2017, WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab notes:
- “[Synthetic biology] will provide us with the ability to customize organisms by writing DNA. Setting aside the profound ethical issues this raises, these advances will not only have a profound and immediate impact on medicine but also on agriculture and the production of biofuels.”
- “The ability to edit biology can be applied to practically any cell type, enabling the creation of genetically modified plants or animals, as well as modifying the cells of adult organisms including humans”
- “The list of potential applications is virtually endless—ranging from the ability to modify animals so that they can be raised on a diet that is more economical or better suited to local conditions, to creating food crops that are capable of withstanding extreme temperatures or drought.”
- “The science is progressing so fast that the limitations are now less technical than they are legal, regulatory and ethical.”
If animals can be genetically modified to be raised on a diet that is more economical and tagged with a DNA barcode for traceability, then who’s to say the same couldn’t be applied to humans?
Again, what happens after we, the people consume food that has been genetically tagged?
Does a part of the DNA barcode stay with us?
Another observation Schwab makes in his book from 2017 is that people will be tracked and traced like inventory:
“Any package, pallet or container can now be equipped with a sensor, transmitter or radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that allows a company to track where it is as it moves through the supply chain—how it is performing, how it is being used, and so on.
“In the near future, similar monitoring systems will also be applied to the movement and tracking of people.”
Whether it’s through DNA barcodes, or good old-fashioned microchips, traceability is a key feature built-in to global supply chains of all types, including people.
Spore-powered contact tracing for civil unrest, ports of entry, and the intelligence community?
Imagine if DNA barcodes were used by riot squads, the intelligence community, or customs and immigration authorities.
In times of civil unrest, microbial spores could be sprayed on large crowds and then later recovered from persons of interest to see if they participated in certain events, protests, riots, or other large gatherings.
Not only that, the DNA barcodes could be used to trace their every footstep from the trail of spores they’d leave behind, along with everyone else those people came in contact with and where they had been as well.
The FBI could also investigate whether or not someone was harboring a suspect based on where the spores were carried.
If the spores were ingested, they could be recovered by a bodily fluid sample or other DNA swab.
“We could recover these spores from shoes and other objects that travel through labelled areas and use them to reconstruct an item’s trajectory” — The Science Breaker, 2021
For customs and immigration purposes, one question international travelers are frequently asked is whether or not they has visited a farm or other agricultural area during their trip.
By the spores found on people’s shoes, DNA barcodes could help port of entry authorities shed a light on where a person has been, or if they had come in contact with a surface containing the spores — provided that they figure out how to cut-down on false positives.
Everything from illicit drugs and contraband avocados to forged jewelry and more can all be identified by public and private agencies thanks to DNA barcoding.
In fact, DNA barcoding has for years been helping to combat illegal logging and illegal wildlife trades in many parts of the world.
“The ability to edit biology can be applied to practically any cell type, enabling the creation of genetically modified plants or animals, as well as modifying the cells of adult organisms including humans” — Klaus Schwab, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” 2017
The list of DNA barcode applications is seemingly endless — from food, to life-saving therapies and tracking cancer growth, to injections, to jewelry and minerals — just about anything that falls within the physical and biological realms can be tagged with a DNA barcode for total traceability.
Like any technology, it is not inherently good or bad — it can be used for both — and everything depends on how the technology is regulated and whether or not society accepts such applications.
Would you be comfortable having a DNA barcode made from genetically modified spores grown and programmed in a lab passing through your body with the data being fully retrievable on the other end?