Applied DNA takes on missile defense

By GREGORY ZELLER //

The U.S. Department of Defense is calling on Applied DNA Sciences to secure the electronic guts of the nation’s missile-defense systems.

As part of a two-year contract with the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, the Stony Brook-based biotech firm is partnering with Hi-Rel Group, a Connecticut manufacturer of highly specialized metal components for what’s known as microelectronic packaging, to produce seals marked with SigNature DNA, Applied DNA Science’s flagship authentication product.

Specifically, the companies will apply SigNature DNA markers to hermetic lids used in microcircuit packaging. Air-tight hermetic packaging is primarily designed to prevent water vapor and other foreign bodies from damaging the contents. These lids will now include plant DNA-based tags, which can’t be duplicated.

The collaboration is through the missile agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program, which supports emerging technologies that could benefit the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System. Applied DNA Sciences signed a two-year, $975,000 SBIR Phase II contract last year, marking real progress in the company’s relationship with the missile-defense crowd, according to Janice Meraglia, Applied DNA’s vice president of government and military programs.

meraglia

Janice Meraglia

“About two years ago, we submitted a Phase I proposal just to demonstrate the basics of what we would do in a more expansive contract,” Meraglia told Innovate LI. “Now, in the more substantial Phase II, we have to demonstrate our capability to mark microcircuits at full-scale capacity. So we’re looking to engage with more manufacturers.”

And not just manufacturers, but the channel partners who supply them. That led to the collaboration with Hi-Rel Group, “an interesting and different approach to what we normally do,” Meraglia noted.

The need for forgery-proof security protocols is obvious, although many of the microcircuits themselves are standard issue.

“Missiles are obviously a more critical issue than my cell phone,” the VP noted. “But there are similar electronics in everything … the same electronics that might be guiding a missile might also be driving your car.”

Tom Dolan, Hi-Rel Group’s vice president of business development, said the Applied DNA Sciences collaboration fit the mold for a company that’s sought out industry partnerships since Hi-Rel launched in 1976.

“For 40 years, we’ve focused on building relationships by providing innovative solutions for our customers,” Dolan said. “Working with Applied DNA follows this mission of continually expanding our capabilities.”

It also answers customer demand, Dolan noted, and not just from military contractors.

“We have definitely seen an increase in requests for traceability and security-based protection features,” he said. “We believe there is considerable upside potential in that market segment.”

The Hi-Rel Group partnership is not Applied DNA Science’s first at-bat under the Phase II contract. The company is also swinging for new DNA-marker validation methods, with an eye on faster and more efficient in-field authentication.

So another Phase II effort includes development of a “multi-mode reader,” according to Meraglia, “a unique and proprietary way” to scan DNA markers on the fly. The readers wouldn’t actually authenticate the DNA, which is unique to every marker, but would recognize optical identifiers Applied DNA Sciences includes with every application.

The company is also ramping up its full DNA-authentication methods, including work under the SBIR program with third parties developing in-field DNA authenticators.

“There’s a lot happening,” Meraglia noted.

Applied DNA Sciences is also in the middle of a separate two-year, $2.97 million deal with the Rapid Innovation Fund, a competitive bid managed by the office of the Secretary of Defense. Where the SBID program is “very focused on electronics,” the RIF work is “more broad-based,” Meraglia said, covering a wider range of commodities.

“They’re asking for a single authentication program over everything you can imagine, every nut and bolt,” she said. “We’re demonstrating the deployment of DNA as part of the overall supply-chain security system.

“Marking is only the beginning,” Meraglia added. “The idea is to provide complete supply-chain traceability.”

The bigger idea, of course, is to grow Applied DNA Sciences. This week, Meraglia and Dolan were presenting together at the International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society conference in Florida, showcasing not only their individual company’s wares but highlighting what the partners can accomplish together.

In a presentation approved for release by the government, the partners will show how the hermetic lids are marked and demonstrate the controls used to ensure proper labeling, as well as Applied DNA Science’s authentication protocols – a potentially lucrative demonstration, she noted, considering the audience.

“These are the people who assemble all the parts out there,” Meraglia said. “This is where the rubber meets the road.”