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Edible QR code shoots fake whiskey

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – In the future, when ordering a shot of whiskey, you could ask the bartender to hold an edible fluorescent silk tag that could float inside – although it is safe to consume.

This little silk tag with a QR code is a security measure that could reveal if the whiskey you want to buy is a fake. Simply using a smartphone to scan the label, which was developed by biomedical engineers from Purdue University and South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, could confirm the drink’s authenticity.

There are, of course, no labels currently placed on whiskey bottles. But this new anti-counterfeiting technology, published in the journal AEC Core Sciencescould be a step not only towards finding a solution for the alcohol industry, but also towards the fight against fake drugs.

Jungwoo Leem, postdoctoral research associate, and Young Kim, both from Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, are part of a global research team that has developed an edible QR code on a specialized silk tag that could help consumers to detect fake whisky. (Photo Purdue University/John Underwood)

“Some liquid medications contain alcohol. We wanted to test this for the first time in whiskey because of the higher alcohol content of whiskey,” said Young Kim, associate director of research and associate professor at Purdue’s. Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. “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.

Kim has worked on anti-counterfeiting measures ranging from cyberphysical watermarks to tags made of fluorescent silk proteins. The tags have a code that a consumer or patient can activate with a smartphone to confirm the authenticity of a product.

The code on the fluorescent silk tag is the equivalent of a barcode or QR code and is not visible to the naked eye. The labels are also edible, causing no problem if a person swallowed them while drinking a glass of whisky. The labels did not affect the taste of the whisky.

Kim and Jungwoo Leem, a postdoctoral research associate, said making the tags involves processing fluorescent silk cocoons from specialized silkworms to create a biopolymer, which can be formed into a variety of patterns to encode the tags. information. You can watch a demo video of the tag by Kim and Leem.

“Spirits are vulnerable to counterfeiting. There are a lot of fake whiskeys being sold,” Leem said, referring to other studies mentioned in the journal article on the economic cost and the loss of purchasing fake spirits, including how 18% of adults in the UK experienced in buying counterfeit spirits.

“Counterfeit items, such as drugs and alcohol, are big problems around the world. There are many examples of large quantities of fake drugs being sold around the world, which in some cases are killing people,” Kim said.

“Online pharmacies sell controlled substances to teenagers. People can easily buy counterfeit opioids. This work is extremely important for patients and purchasers to address this issue,” Kim said. “If you have this technology on or in your medication, 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 solve this problem.

Kim and Leem placed tags in various brands and price points of whiskey (80 degrees, 40% alcohol by volume) over a 10-month period and were able to continuously activate the tags and codes with a smartphone app .

One of the ways to highlight this problem is to literally highlight the tags. The team developed ways and methods for the beacons to be activated by smartphones in a variety of lighting settings.

Kim said the tags are an additional authentication mechanism for tamper-evident seals marked on bottles or pills and could help by being placed on high-priced liquor bottles or on individually priced drugs.

In addition to Kim and Leem, the research team members were Hee-Jae Jeon, Yuhyun Ji, and Sang Mok Park from Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering; Yunsang Kwak from the Department of Mechanical Systems Engineering at Kumoh National Institute of Technology in South Korea; and Jongwoo Park, Kee-Young Kim, and Seong-Wan Kim from the Department of Agricultural Biology, National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, South Korea. Funding is from the Cooperative Research Program for the Development of Agricultural Science and Technology (PJ015364) of the Republic of Korea Rural Development Administration, United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA2386-17-1 -4072), the National Institutes of Health’s NIH Technology Accelerator Challenge, and Purdue University’s Trask Innovation Fund. The technology was leaked to Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

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