Licking the virtual envelope

A molecular marker developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico could be used to determine if a sealed cargo container has been tampered with after being loaded on a ship.

The chemical detection system, patented by Dallas-based Isotag Technologies Inc., creates a permanent fingerprint that can authenticate a product as it moves through the supply chain.

The chemical marker is applied to an electronic seal on a cargo container and can alert officials if the seal has been broken or replaced. The marker will appear only when it is highlighted by a detector with a specific wavelength.

"Our types of seals can allow for verification that something was packaged and sealed," said Neil Ivey, an Isotag spokesman. "It also can be used to match up cargo with passengers, and you can monitor the progress of a package until it gets on a plane."

The technology is already being used commercially. Pharmaceutical companies have used it to authenticate packaging to make sure a sealed prescription has not been tampered with. The marker can be placed on a bottle of pills or on the wrapper of an individual pill.

The marker also can be used to detect if someone takes a bill of lading and substitutes a different one or adds something to the document while a container is in transit, Ivey said.

Isotag technology also has been used to authenticate gasoline and diesel fuels. By adding the marker to the product, officials can determine if the fuels have been watered down.

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