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June 16, 2009

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This seems like (and correct me if I am wrong) it only affects the label. So it would not stop someone from using a Paumanok bottle and filling it with something else?

From what I read about this (mostly on business-related sites, not very high-level sciencey stuff), the process seems to be as follows.

(1) Paumanok gives juice or wine or cuttings or some other biological material to ADS.

(2) ADS amplifies a piece of the DNA from the grapes by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and incorporates it into specially-made ink to be placed on the label

(3) Should the product need to be identified, there are three increasingly stringent levels of identification:

(a) is the special ink there? (UV-light detection, probably, requires a UV light) cost: $

(b) is the DNA we think should be there actually there? (take some ink & amplify the DNA by PCR, requires science) cost: $$$

(c) is the DNA that is there EXACTLY the DNA that we think it is? (PCR, followed by restriction digest of the DNA, or sequencing) cost: $$$$-$$$$$

DNA is can be thought of as a chain of letters: A, T, C, and G. Restriction enzymes cut DNA at certain base-pair sequences (think "words" in this analogy, e.g., CATATG). These sequences appear at different places in every piece of DNA. When DNA is digested with restriction enzymes, it creates pieces of varying lengths depending on the location of the cut sites.

example, where X is the cut site:

===X========X=====X==X= becomes === ======== ===== == =
=X===X====X============ becomes = === ==== ============

An analysis (gel electrophoresis, specifically) can then be performed where a unique pattern of sizes emerges, which you can compare to the original DNA sample. This is also how they do paternity tests and CSI-type forensic analysis.

Sequencing is the process of chemically "reading" the DNA's pattern, and is the most accurate way of ascertaining authenticity in this case.

So, low level authentication (like the marker you use to authenticate a $50 or $100 bill) is easy, but doesn't really involve the DNA itself. The DNA in the ink can be amplified easily and analyzed to determine authenticity. Additionally, faking DNA to this level (e.g., synthesizing pieces of DNA that will stand up to scrutiny) is extremely cost-prohibitive and bafflingly complex. I'm not sure how much DNA is actually in finished wine (especially because DNA is not that soluble in ethanol) so I am not sure if they can actually sample what is in the bottle.

According to some research, DNA can be measured in wines up to 6 months in the bottle, so it's possible that you could compare the actual product to the label.

Just speculating though. I'm sure the actual DNA sequences and technology are closely protected.

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