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Biotech Technology

Super Bowl Footballs Get The DNA Touch 194

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-wash-them dept.
theodp writes "All 120 Super Bowl XL footballs will be marked with a drop of synthetic DNA to thwart potential counterfeiters (free reg. required to read) who might be tempted to sell phony game-used Super Bowl footballs, which can be worth thousands of dollars. Exposed to a specific laser frequency, the DNA glows to a bright green. 'The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion,' said the president of PSA/DNA Authentication Services."
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Super Bowl Footballs Get The DNA Touch

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  • Unless... (Score:2, Redundant)

    Someone pilfers the documents from PSA/DNA.
  • Perhaps (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CountBrass (590228) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:55AM (#14640502)
    33 trillion to 1? Yeah right. All a counterfeiter needs do is make it glow roughly the same green. No need to actually replicate the DNA sequence: no-one will actually check that anyway!
    • Hell, you just have to imply that it'll glow green and include a little photoshopped picture. Who's going to actually go find this magic light source to make it glow? Hell, you could use a blacklight and Woolite to fool most people.

      ---John Holmes...
    • Re:Perhaps (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:37AM (#14640617) Homepage
      Depends on how much that football actually is worth. Say for example such a football sold for a hundred thousand dollars. In this case, it would be worth paying a few grand to have the DNA sequence tested and verified for authenticity.

      Now if it's worth only a grand, chances are some sucker will plunk his cash down without actually going through all the trouble. In such cases, getting away with counterfeiting is much more likely.
      • Especially when the "in-house" cost of sequencing a DNA sample is around four to eight dollars.

        Convincing the seller to provide a sample could be tricky, not many want a $100,000 football with a bunch of holes in it from overzealous sampling.

        Allowing the seller to post proof of DNA sequence won't work either, lab results could be forged, or he could post credentials for another "valid" football.

      • Re:Perhaps (Score:5, Funny)

        by Fred_A (10934) <fredNO@SPAMfredshome.org> on Saturday February 04, 2006 @11:43AM (#14641719) Homepage
        Someone stupid enough to waste "thousands of dollars" on a misshapen ball should be easy enough to fall for the simplest of forgeries anyway.
    • Re:Perhaps (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RomulusNR (29439) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @04:41AM (#14640748) Homepage
      And who's going to have one of those very specifically-tuned lasers to check them with?
    • Re:Perhaps (Score:5, Informative)

      by ebuck (585470) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @08:30AM (#14641156)
      Ok, here we go.

      DNA oxidizes, right? I mean I'm just a lowly ex-research biologist who only worked with the stuff for a period of about 3.5 years; however, I wouldn't expect that base sequence pair to hold together for very long.

      Plus DNA doesn't glow green (unless they've discovered something new). There are dyes that can work their way into the double helix and make it appear red (due to the dye being red), but shining a laser at DNA would probably result in a lot of disconnected (or abnormally bonded) base pairs, and a broken (or oxidized) ribose backbone.

      I'm suspecting that they are actually tagging the DNA covalently with a flourescent marker that glows green. Such "bonded" markers have been available for quite some time (and in a variety of colors), so such dyes would be easily available to the football engineers (hehe) out there. As the parent poster suggested, then all you would have to do is add the marker to the existing DNA on any old football, and apart from sampling and sequencing the DNA, most people would be statisfied at first glance.

      Even though DNA sequencing is getting cheaper every day (I imagine a private individual would have to pay a bit more, but in-house services usually charge around $4 to $8 per sample) so cost won't be a factor. However, the results can be forged, and not many people will tolerate "oversampling" of their prized $5000 football. "Excuse me sir, by may I take a slice?"

      Finally, the DNA would oxidize over time, leaving less and less material that would test positive.

      Provided that the base pair sequence is published (as it would have to be to allow verification), then sequencing it from scratch is a little more expensive, but an everyday task. And don't get into "authentic" vs. "knock-off" molecule debates please: if all of the atoms are in the same places, the orgins of both molecules are indistinguishable.

      What would be cooler is to transgenically insert a sequence into pig zygotes that produces a protein which resists oxidation and flouresces with laser light. Then the whole football would glow, but it's glow would increase with intensity of the right wavelength. Players might complain about it being harder to see a slightly glowing football, but such complaints usually fall on deaf ears, and it's not like the football design never changes (or that we lack "neon" footballs today).
      • glow in the dark (Score:2, Informative)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        What would be cooler is to transgenically insert a sequence into pig zygotes that produces a protein which resists oxidation and flouresces with laser light.

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4605 202.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        Scientists in Taiwan say they have bred three pigs that "glow in the dark".

        They claim that while other researchers have bred partly fluorescent pigs, theirs are the only pigs in the world which are green through and through

        Here's a direct link to the glowing pigs picture [bbc.co.uk]

        Pretty cool, eh?

      • I suppose one could seal the DNA inside plastic, but then you've got to make sure it doesn't break off, etc, etc. -- Sounds like the goal is mainly to stop the short-term fraud, rather than provide durable authenticity verification. (Or if maybe it's a solution in search of a problem. I can't get at TFA at the moment.)

        For longterm ID, and simple durability, it might be better to insert a microchip during manufacturing (so it's protected within the ball itself), which could be read by anyone with a scanner.
    • Re:Perhaps (Score:5, Informative)

      by drooling-dog (189103) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @10:08AM (#14641390)
      All a counterfeiter needs do is make it glow roughly the same green. No need to actually replicate the DNA sequence: no-one will actually check that anyway!

      I assume that they're just attaching a flourescent molecule to the DNA so they can find it for sequencing when there's a dispute about authenticity. Of course, there's nothing to stop anyone from sequencing the DNA on an authentic ball, and then synthesizing more DNA with the same sequence. It's only 22 or 23 bases, and you can order customized DNA of that length pretty cheaply from many companies that do that sort of thing.

      I'm not sure where they came up with the "33 trillion" figure, though. There are about 17.6 trillion (4^22) possible different 22-base strands, and 70.4 trillion possible 23-base strands...

    • Note: 33 trillion to 1 odds do not apply if the football player in question is OJ Simpson.

  • Full text (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bananatree3 (872975) * on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:55AM (#14640503)
    Here's the text of the article for easy read:

    DETROIT -- Super Bowl XL comes with a guarantee: Every football -- all 120 of them -- will be dropped.
    That is, each will be marked with a drop of synthetic DNA to thwart potential counterfeiters who might be tempted to sell phony "game-used" Super Bowl footballs, which can be worth thousands of dollars. Exposed to a specific laser frequency, the DNA glows to a bright green.
    "The ball can change hands a thousand-plus times, but it will never lose that DNA," said Joe Orlando, president of PSA/DNA Authentication Services, a division of Santa Ana-based Collector's Universe Inc., which for the sixth consecutive year marked the Super Bowl footballs. "The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion, so it's virtually impossible."
    The NFL has prepared 10 dozen Wilson footballs for Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks and plans to use a new one on every play of the first half, before going to a 12-ball rotation after halftime. It's something the league has done for several Super Bowls, donating some to charity auctions, setting aside others for selected players, coaches and officials, and sending the one used on the opening kickoff to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
    "You have to guard that one like your life depends on it," said Mike Pereira, supervisor of NFL officials.
    Some players said they would be holding on a little extra tight too.
    Steeler receiver Antwaan Randle El was caught off guard when informed about the continuous shuttle of new pigskin.
    "Every play? I didn't know that," he said Wednesday. "That's not good.
    "It's slick, it's slippery. Even when you go to tuck it, the ball's prone to come out a little more often than normal."
    Added quarterback Charlie Batch, backup for Steeler starter Ben Roethlisberger: "If they're not broken in, that could present a problem. But it shouldn't be a problem for Ben because he wears a glove. I don't think that necessarily would affect him, but that could affect anybody [else] who has to touch the ball. It's a little more slick and the laces aren't broken in."
    And the grip is a concern even for those who don't catch or carry the ball.
    "You get those new balls that are right out of the bag, that's an issue," said Greg Warren, Pittsburgh's long snapper, whose job it is to accurately hike the ball back on field-goal attempts, conversion kicks and punts. "You just have to make sure you stay focused. Because if that ball slips just a little bit, it makes a big difference.
    "For me, if the ball slips out too soon, I'm going to get a real low snap. So I have to be aware of that. But I don't want to grip it too hard, because if you grip it too long it's going to go high."
    Said Carolina receiver Steve Smith, who played in the Super Bowl two years ago: "It's no big deal. You can't even tell. We play with new balls all the time."
    But New England tight end Christian Fauria, who played in the last two Super Bowls, says of the balls: "Quarterbacks and kickers definitely know the difference between a good one and a bad one.... It's like handing a pitcher a brand-new baseball after every pitch. They like to scuff it up."
    To break in the footballs, the NFL uses a machine similar to an electric golf-shoe buffer. It's quicker and more effective than rubbing each by hand.
    "They really take the rain protectant off of them, which kind of acts like Vaseline at times," Seattle kicker Josh Brown said. "But as much as we play in bad weather and the rain up there in Seattle, it shouldn't be a problem."
    New footballs, old footballs, Seahawk receiver Darrell Jackson said he doesn't have a preference.
    "My job is to catch it," he said. "Doesn't matter if it's slick, or if it's wet, or if it doesn't have enough grip on it. Whatever ball's out there, I'll just hold on tight."
    Teammate Robbie Tobeck, a center, doesn't seem worried either: "We use new balls every game. I haven't had a problem with it at all."
    NFL kickers and punters always have

    • by coolgeek (140561) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @04:38AM (#14640747) Homepage
      In a related story, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is reported to have been hospitalized follow the game this Sunday for strange growths on his hands and forearms.
    • I think our friend needs to take a course in probability. Or maybe biology, or perhaps common sense.

      If the DNA is replicated enough times to be placed on 120 different footballs, then the chance of replicating it has been proven by example, so it's basically 100%.

      The chance of replicating it without knowledge of it's base pairs is much lower, but if you can get a sample of the DNA (come in contact with a valid game ball), you can easily replicate it 100% without even knowing the sequence. After all, your
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:55AM (#14640504)
    Eww... doesn't anyone wash their hands anymore?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:56AM (#14640505)
  • Ewwwwww (Score:5, Funny)

    by cloudkj (685320) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:57AM (#14640506)
    Who would want to buy a football stained with semen, not to mention pummeled and pounced up on by almost two dozen sweaty heavy guys for two hours non-stop?
    • Who would want to buy a football stained with semen, not to mention pummeled and pounced up on by almost two dozen sweaty heavy guys for two hours non-stop?

      Call to get your drapes redone, ask him.
  • Billions, so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by leob (154345) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @02:58AM (#14640508)
    Who cares about the probability of replicating the exact sequence? What is the probability that an arbitrary sequence DNA will glow under that light?
    • The DNA they are using glows at a very specific light frequency. I imagine they don't share and tell exactly what that frequency is, though.
      • by TheGuano (851573)
        If they don't tell anyone, I guess they're willing to go around testing all 10,000 footballs everyone is thinking about bidding for on ebay.
        • They are when they get paid for each and every test.
          • But are they getting paid for it? Even more, if it required the damned ball to be sent to them and back every time it's sold, then how well would this process work, anyways? As long as qualified experts are getting the ball for examination, why would they need DNA to verify its authenticity, can't they just verify it with other mundane and proven ways?

            The process of how this would need to work if you had to send the ball out to the NFL sounds pretty ineffective to me.

    • Who cares about the probability of replicating the exact sequence?

      If you can get hold of the DNA replicating it becomes rather easier.
      This kind of tagging was originally designed for detecting stolen items.
  • odds (Score:5, Funny)

    by shr3k (451065) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:03AM (#14640525) Homepage
    The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion

    Never tell me the odds!
    • a few points

      the "odds" only apply if you pick randomly from all possibilities. so, if it's 1 it 33 trillion - don't pick randomly, it won't work.

      also, and more important to the thread: if I were creating a mix-n-match physical security technology, then there is a huge similarity to one-time pads; the reason this is interesting is that you can have a unique sequence, or even better a mix of unique sequences on EACH BALL. this is roughly equivalent to putting a difficult to read, long random number on each
  • by xtal (49134) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:07AM (#14640533)
    IANA molecular biologist, but isn't there a pretty common process for taking trace DNA, then duplicating it en masse for crime scene investigation?

  • Business plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pgfuller (797997) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:11AM (#14640546)
    1) Purchase legitimate game ball for 'thousands' 2) Extract DNA sequence and replicate using PCR or actually sequence it and then create more 3) ... 4) Profit !
  • by faceword (635817) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:11AM (#14640548) Homepage
    1) Slaughter a pig.
    2) Slice the hide into 120 footballs.
    3) Serve the leftovers as bacon during the pre-game tailgate.

    All the footballs have the same DNA.

    The glow is related to the discount the company received by purchasing from Chernobyl pig farmers.
  • by rincebrain (776480) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:13AM (#14640553) Homepage
    What the hell is stopping a counterfitting group from sequencing the DNA and replicating it?

    I mean, they're willing to go the distance to make the balls looks authentic, it can be done.
    • my bet is that the odds stated in the article are for guessing the sequence. The tech is cool, but the retards deciding on using the tech could use some work.
    • by patio11 (857072) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @04:34AM (#14640739)
      Screw sequencing it. All you need to do is get a sample, mix it in with polychromase, and add a little heat to PCR the heck out of it. Its a laboratory procedure that high school science students can complete -- I should know, because I did it in AP biology. Congratulations, you know have a big container of paste that glows green under a specific frequency of light, for less than $100 in easily available ingridients (Popular Science magazine probably sells do-it-yourself-DNA-experiment-kits in the back). Add in one football and you're done.
  • Hot air (Score:2, Informative)

    by duinsel (935058)
    There are probably nuggets of truth in the claim, but first of all DNA does not glow green. Perhaps they used fancy synthetic nucleotide analogs with a fluorescent label? Otherwise, they just spiked cheap marker dye into the mix, separate from the DNA. Furthermore, though a laser of the proper frequency (color) can definately make a fluorescent dye glow green, this is hardly something only a laser can do. Any source of (probably blue-ish) light will do. But of course 'blue flashlight' sounds not nearly as c
    • I think what they've done is to splice in the "GFP" (green fluorescent protein) gene. This is derived from jelly-fish and is commonly used as a debugging tool to test whether a vector (a virus modified to transplant genes) is working before they add the new payload. Even so, the DNA will not glow of itself, so I'm finding it difficult to see the point.
  • by quokkapox (847798) <quokkapox@gmail.com> on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:16AM (#14640566)
    To the first person who sends me a photograph of a wealthy net-savvy Nigerian businessman smiling and holding up a genuine fake Super Bowl XXL Football.

    The U.S. has a huge trade deficit. Why aren't we exporting this junk?

    • To the first person who sends me a photograph of a wealthy net-savvy Nigerian businessman smiling and holding up a genuine fake Super Bowl XXL Football.
      I see this being a Fark Photoshop Contest next week.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:19AM (#14640572) Journal
    "The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion, so it's virtually impossible."

    I'm not saying that the chances of replicating the exact sequence are good, but you figure people involved in sport would know better than to assign odds that long.

    Working from known sequences that fluoresce under laser stimulation, I bet they could narrow the odds down, to say, oh, a billion to one. Not that it matters, since what they'll be testing is not the base sequence, but instead whether laser + pig bladder = fluorescence.

    So beating their test just means guessing the frequency of the laser.

    I'll bet $100 on 100,000 different reproducable frequencies ($10M in bets) and I figure one of them will hit... even if they take a 5% vig, I'm still making out with 3.135 QUADRILLION dollars.

    Take that, Dr. Evil.
  • by LouisZepher (643097) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:22AM (#14640577)
    1 in 33 trillion is still only a finite improbability, and now that I know the figures, I just need a cup of really hot tea and I'll have myself a goldmine of counterfeit footballs...
  • by Indy Media Watch (823624) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:35AM (#14640612) Homepage
    Exposed to a specific laser frequency, the DNA glows to a bright green. 'The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion,' said the president

    And the chances of a potential purchaser having the specific laser to verify their purchase? About one in 35 trillion...

  • Go Natural (Score:5, Funny)

    by truckaxle (883149) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @03:51AM (#14640659) Homepage
    Am I missing something here? Why not just make the pig skins from green pigs [bbc.co.uk] in the first place. Try replicating that in your backyard.
  • Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mh101 (620659) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @04:03AM (#14640677)
    If someone's stupid enough to pay thousands of dollars to buy a football just because it was supposedly used in a Superbowl game, then they deserve it if they get conned.

    Similarly, I don't get all these auctions where an article of clothing sells for huge sums of money simply because a celebrity wore it once. Why's it suddenly worth so much more than getting the exact same thing from a store?

    • It shouldn't be "who cares" but more "Why does the NFL care?"

      Seriously, I could go into how they should be focused on making sure all the Refs are ready and that the Instant Replay is ready, but put that aside and question why the NFL is making sure that game balls are authentic.

      I mean, why do they care? Do they make money off eBay? Do they make money off of the ball 30 years from now when it sells for tens-of-thousands at Sotheby's? Why is the NFL putting money into this, just to say that thier balls can't
      • Jeepers, you know nothing about business. Did you see the line in TFA where they said that a number of balls from the first half would be donated to charity? They get the good will of making valuable donations to many charities, for the cost of a few footballs.

        Not to mention that there's a tax deduction for the value of the footballs donated -- which you can bet will be set at the auction price the charity gets, not by the purchase price for the football.

        More generally, the league's job is to promote fo
    • If anything, this makes it easier to snooker people.

      Before: You had a football you want to pawn off as an "authentic Superbowl XXXXVIICLM ball". How did you convince your buyer that it was the real deal? Dunno.

      Now: You have a football you want to pawn off. How do you convince your buyer? Shine a bit of green light on it, and watch it glow back at you. Cha-ching!

      Didn't anyone anywhere look at this plan and think, "so the idea is to take a football, and make it unduplicatable by smearing on some stringy
  • try and patent it... the Devil has prior art... he get's people to sign the contract with their own blood
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @06:22AM (#14640924)
    I'll bet that the odds are less than 33 trillion to one that you could bribe someone who works for the synthetic DNA company to pilfer a sample for you.
  • Lets do the math...

    120 footballs + 10 cheerleaders = Sticky Balls.

    The NFL can party like no other.

  • Not that hard! (Score:2, Interesting)

    'The chance of replicating this exact DNA sequence is one in 33 trillion'

    ... unless you already know exactly the sequence itself. It's as hard as opening the combination lock of a safe: it's quite simple if you already know the combination!
    So one could steal the combination and replicate it in a snap. And the combintion itslef could be a simple file stored in an unsecure system.
    It'd be better to educate people about the real value of a used dirty football ball!

  • Pig DNA (Score:3, Funny)

    by phanophish (234390) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @10:47AM (#14641518)
    Why not just sequence the DNA of the leather? Pigs have DNA too.
  • Guess they must have forgot the bacon [userfriendly.org] and just went for the pigskin.
  • Yeah, there are ways to get around this security. You could get a sample of the DNA, resynthesize it, then manufacture a duplicate ball, and create a fake.

    But the cost of counterfiet is greater than the $2000 the ball is going to go for. Which makes it a succesful deterent.
  • There's easily two jokes outta this one.

    Isn't it funny that a man will purchase balls to place on his mantle when his wife already keeps the pair he use to have there?

    (rimshot followed by silence)

    Thank you...

    And finally...

    Who goes shopping for footballs with lasers? I mean you don't see me going to walmart and be all like, "Hey, it says genuine Hanes brand socks. I gotta hit that with a laser before it's going in my basket..."

    Okay, you've been a great crowd...

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo. - Andy Finkel, computer guy

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