Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2022

There is an elaborate tradition and art that goes into making certain scotches. The recipes of some highland single malts have been passed down through families for generations, and connoisseurs can pay a lot for these unique, peaty spirits. 

Not surprisingly, counterfeiters are looking to cash in on a high-end whiskey’s reputation. 

However, a new edible QR code could make detecting a genuine high-end scotch as easy as a smartphone scan. 

The real deal 

There aren’t any of these edible QR codes in bottles yet, but researchers from Purdue University believe this could be a breakthrough innovation in liquor and more. Purdue University’s professor Young Kim has developed anticounterfeit measures including cyberphysical watermarks and tags made of fluorescent silk proteins. The tags have a specific code that a consumer can scan and check with their phone. 

The fluorescent silk tag’s code is like a barcode or QR code, invisible to the naked eye. And it is edible and doesn’t affect the taste, meaning it won’t be noticed at all if downed in a tumbler. The tags are made from the fluorescent silk cocoons from specialized silkworms to create a biopolymer, which can be fabricated to encode information. 

From across the bar to across the pharmacy counter 

High-end spirits are one thing, but they aren’t the only product with alcohol, and they aren’t the only product whose authenticity needs to be verified. The reason that this tech is tested first on the authenticity of spirits is that this is an easier proving ground for more important areas like medicine. 

“Some liquid medicines contain alcohol. We wanted to test this first in whiskey because of whiskey’s higher alcohol content,” says Young Kim. “Researchers apply alcohol to silk proteins to make them more durable. Because they tolerate alcohol, the shape of the tag can be maintained for a long time.”

Another major and more dangerous form of counterfeiting is pharmaceuticals. Patients place so much trust in doctors and pharmacists, and their medications can at times mean life or death. Giving them the ability to verify their own meds can be a lifesaving gamechanger. 

“Online pharmacies sell controlled substances to teens. People can buy counterfeit opioids easily. This work is extremely important for patients and buyers in addressing this issue,” Kim says. “If you have this technology on or in your medicines, you can use your smartphone to authenticate. We want to empower patients to be aware of this issue. We want to work with pharmaceutical companies and alcohol producers to help them address this issue.”

Source Study: ACS Publications Edible Matrix Code with Photogenic Silk Proteins | ACS Central Science

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