This Is Another Fine Mist You've Gotten Me Into
October 19, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

"The mist — visible only under ultraviolet light — carries DNA markers particular to the location, enabling the police to match the burglar with the place burgled. Now, a sign on the front door of the McDonald’s prominently warns potential thieves of the spray’s presence: 'You Steal, You’re Marked.'"
posted by Scoop (65 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Meh. McDonald's has been making me spray for decades.
posted by punkfloyd at 11:56 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who would rob a McDonald's? Hamburgler, sure, but I wouldn't eat there, let alone rob the place. "Gimme the money and some fries with it"
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:57 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, so much for my side venture of selling boxes of frozen McDonald's french fries that "fell off a truck" out of my white van in the parking lot of the check cashing shop.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


First we had security theater. Now we have security bukkake.
posted by benzenedream at 11:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [46 favorites]


“No one really knows what it is,” he said. “No one really knows how it works.”

Michael Crichton is spinning in his grave.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


So you hit Wal-Mart, you get a cat urine finder and some bleach. Boom, done.
posted by adipocere at 11:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


It takes a high degree of technological sophistication to catch the kind of criminal that robs a McDonald's, I am sure.

on preview: Who would rob a McDonald's? Hamburgler, sure, but I wouldn't eat there, let alone rob the place. "Gimme the money and some fries with it"

One word: McRibs.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:59 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who would rob a McDonald's?

Apparently it happens pretty often. Three times in the past week, at least: One, Two, Three.
posted by jedicus at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2010


I've worked at a Blockbuster store that got robbed at gunpoint (I think the guy got about $200). I think the average McDonald's makes about $6000 a day. I don't know how often they break down the registers, but I can imagine a lot of robberies going down.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"(though they could not provide actual figures to back that up)."

This is a heck of a compelling reason to move forward with this product.
posted by HuronBob at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yolanda: This place? A McDonalds?
Pumpkin: Why not? Nobody ever robs McDonalds. Bars, liquor stores, gas stations...you get your head blown off sticking up one of them. McDonalds on the other hand, you catch with their pants down. They're not expecting to get robbed. Not as expectant anyway.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:11 PM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist:One word: McRibs.


That was McDonald's first-generation burglary deterrent that utilized cutting-edge crippling diarrhea technology.
posted by dr_dank at 12:11 PM on October 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Who would rob a McDonald's?

If I were going to rob an establishment, I'd probably pick a McDonald's. They're not famous for their high security, and you know for a fact that they have wads of cash being "guarded" by unarmed minimum wage types. They're always accessible to traffic and they operate late.

PLUS FREE WI-FI
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


"the protocol for secretly activating the system — removing a 10 euro bill from a special bill clip kept behind the counter"

Might want to change up the "secret activation" system now.
posted by acheekymonkey at 12:15 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The mist — visible only under ultraviolet light — carries DNA markers particular to the location, enabling the police to match the burglar with the place burgled.

In case you stole from two difference places?
posted by smackfu at 12:17 PM on October 19, 2010


The robber just has to follow the robbery with a little DNase bath.
posted by exogenous at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2010


word of caution to anyone robbing the well stocked liquor store, this happened just after these robbers robbed a nearby Dunkin Donuts outlet,but when the first robber aimed a 45 at the face of the liquor store clerk, the clerk quickley drew another 45 and both shot each other (in the face)at the same time, what could have been a simple robbery ended with two persons dead.
posted by tustinrick at 12:19 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


My neighborhood in Amsterdam has a DNA-spray protection program, organized by the police. They put up street signs like this in the Pijp-area.
posted by ouke at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In case you stole from two difference places?

A unique marker for that particular place would remove any reasonable doubt that you were not at that particular place.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2010


I'm fairly confident that the overwhelming majority of MeFi readers are not going to knock over a liquor store.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


While there was much about the future I anticipated, being sprayed with alien DNA when entering a fast food restaurant was not on that list.

Surprised PKD also missed such an obvious detail. If Rucker had written about this it probably would have been mold they get sprayed with. Ew.
posted by Forest Mars at 12:22 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


PKD didn't miss it.
posted by rusty at 12:27 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much of the spray’s effectiveness, he said, comes from the mystique surrounding DNA.

“No one really knows what it is,” he said. “No one really knows how it works.”


Bingo, Dino Crime-solving DNA!

But in reality, I think someone knows how DNA works. There are even DNA marker crayons to mark merchandise, like computers at universities.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:27 PM on October 19, 2010


Up next: Burglars in disposable rain ponchos.
posted by schmod at 12:28 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


OH WHAT TO DO ABOUT THOSE ROUGH-AND-TUMBLE IMMIGRANTS HURF DURF

framing of article make hulk maaad
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, man, this is turning into The Island of Dr. McDonalds. I assume eventually they'll attach wings to the arches so the outside can fly away in case of a fire. Or how about the ball pit turns into a bunch of mini-Rovers.
posted by griphus at 12:30 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Take it! I DON'T NEED IT!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Spraying an aerosol would mean that anyone who came into contact with it - and the area it sprayed - would be contaminated. If the markers last long enough to enable cops to catch robbers, then they last long enough to contaminate anyone and everyone who comes through the door after an event. Aerosols are notoriously difficult to confine.

Pretty much a slam dunk for a lawyer to get that thrown out.

Also, FWIW, my bullshit detector is going off. I bet the thing just sprays UV dye. Think con artists wouldn't be so bold?
posted by Xoebe at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm fairly confident that the overwhelming majority of MeFi readers are not going to knock over a liquor store.

Speak for yourself.

Dammit, I'm out of booze again.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I missed it in the article, but what's stopping you from wearing a trash bag into the store and then throwing it in the alley as you make your get-away?
posted by codacorolla at 12:43 PM on October 19, 2010


Pretty much a slam dunk for a lawyer to get that thrown out.

If that's the only evidence you have, sure. But it's a hell of a corroboration if, say, they also have video of someone that looks like you in the McDonalds at the time of the robbery.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:44 PM on October 19, 2010


Also, FWIW, my bullshit detector is going off.

My bullshit detector is going off that each installed location has its own unique DNA fingerprint. Much easier to just fill each can with the same stuff and say it's unique.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 PM on October 19, 2010


Maybe I missed it in the article, but what's stopping you from wearing a trash bag into the store and then throwing it in the alley as you make your get-away

Police see the robber in a trash bag on the CCTV footage. A sweep of the alleyway behind the restaurant located a fresh, empty trash bag placed haphazardly on the pavement. The trash bag is collected and quickly analysed for DNA from your dead skin cells. The robots swoop in and pick you up a half-hour later.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:47 PM on October 19, 2010


I'm fairly confident that the overwhelming majority of MeFi readers are not going to knock over a liquor store.

Not a well-stocked one, anyway.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:47 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


what could have been a simple robbery ended with two persons dead.

That, my friend, is called the "deterrent factor", and you can be assured that this would-be robber will no longer go forth and rob again.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:47 PM on October 19, 2010


I'm fairly confident that the overwhelming majority of MeFi readers are not going to knock over a liquor store

Well, depends on how fast I was going.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"No one really knows what it is," he said. "No one really knows how it works."

Next up: magnetic juggalo traps.
posted by condour75 at 12:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


The mist — visible only under ultraviolet light — carries DNA markers particular to the location,

This line, taken independently from what followed, made me think this was the opening for a creepy horror story about a sentient parasitic vapor...
posted by quin at 12:52 PM on October 19, 2010


Who would rob a McDonald's?

One of my in-laws is a big shot at McDonalds. He mentioned to me (2 days ago actually) that the new store in town is pulling in 2.2 million dollars a year. And that's mediocre. The busy store across town pulls in over 4 million.

So, that's about $6k and $12k per day, every day, respectively.
posted by sideshow at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate to be all hipsterish about this, but the UK company in question, SmartWater, has been selling this technology for years over here in Blighty.

I'm surprised the New York Times is surprised by this technology.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much easier to just fill each can with the same stuff and say it's unique water.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2010


It doesn't match a burglar to the place burgled, it matches (at best) a person to the place burgled. FTA, "...sprays a mist laced with synthetic DNA to cover anyone in its path, including criminals." Well no shit. They could also do a test for triglycerides. "I think we got 'im."
posted by rhizome at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2010


It sounds like this is Smartwater (produced by the same group, though the brand name isn't mentioned). The Bent Society criminology blog has posted a lot about this: they're good at hype, but there's very little evidence it's effective.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:01 PM on October 19, 2010


Xoebe: Also, FWIW, my bullshit detector is going off. I bet the thing just sprays UV dye. Think con artists wouldn't be so bold?

Ah, I remember that sad, effed up story. Tie it into the statement from the company:
But the goal is not so much capturing crooks as scaring them away. “The whole thing is prevention, not about recovering stolen goods or capturing criminals,” said Donald van der Laan, whose company, the Rhine Group, distributes the spray. As far as the DNA is concerned, “the material is identical” to human DNA, he said, “though there is a different sequence of components.” Much of the spray’s effectiveness, he said, comes from the mystique surrounding DNA.
That's a statement from the product distributor in The Netherlands, not the company behind the product. The SelectaDNA site states that their line of products will "both DETER crime and provide irrefutable EVIDENCE of true ownership." Their product hype contradicts what the distributor told the news outlets, though both push the "DNA fear-factor amongst criminals."
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on October 19, 2010


Why don't they just follow McDowell's lead and hire some immigrants with crazy mop skills?
posted by inigo2 at 1:02 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


burglary deterrent that utilized cutting-edge crippling diarrhea technology

I so, so love that part of Formula 51 / The 51st State.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:02 PM on October 19, 2010


If I'm reading this correctly, one would just need to tape a bucked over the jizzulator to foil it. Is that right?
posted by boo_radley at 1:17 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be surprised if they didn't put DNA in their solution, there is a large market for small sized synthetic DNA for labs, and the price is pretty low now (about 20 US cents per base depending on concentration). If they used a 100 base pair sized DNA fragment that would be $20 per spray. 100bp is way more than enough - that would allow 4^100 possible unique markers.

They don't give details about how it actually works, but I can guess it would be PCR based. Detecting it would again be pretty simple - I would guess they have a common sequence at either end of their marker so they can use PCR to amplify up and sequence or RFLP the middle sequence to show which place it came from. You could pretty easily run the analysis of a sample for $10-$50 if you had a lab set up.

It doesn't seem particularly groundbreaking to me - it is just like the standard UV dye pack or pen. I guess maybe "DNA" has a scare factor fro criminals.
posted by scodger at 1:17 PM on October 19, 2010


So, you trigger this hair-trigger, hard-core, bad-boy-seeking DNA shooter by grabbing a wired 10-Euro note. Presumably to give to the robber. Who's presumably standing at the register at the time.

the register.

And the DNA stolen-money-shot producer is hung mounted affixed to the ceiling over the door.

the door.

I think the police need to stop buying security equipment from the Wile E. Coyote/Al Goldstein corporation.
posted by PlusDistance at 1:20 PM on October 19, 2010


1. If not an outright scam, this is horrifying.
2. I am pretty sure this is an outright scam.
3. Someone needs to start a hardcore band called "Jizzulator" now.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2010


“No one really knows what it is,” he said.
“No one really knows how it works.”
"Tech the tech."
posted by zoinks at 1:27 PM on October 19, 2010


Taking everything exactly at face value, I find myself wondering, are they really using a unique sequence for every unit, or a mixture of short sequences, or just the same sequence ever time. Then I start working out the cheapest way to make the DNA chaff for use as a countermeasure....

The problem with this from a solving crimes angle is that you need a suspect to run the test on. If you collar the guy as he runs out the door, you don't really need the DNA. After a couple days is this DNA tag still relevant, or is everyone who has ridden on the same bus that the perp did the night of the crime now tagged?

From a preventing crimes angle the problem is that people who commit robbery aren't exactly known for "that vision thing" and don't expect to get caught, or believe they are slick enough to talk their way out of it if they are. So really, spraying a fluorescent dye is probably just as good. The cop on the street isn't going to be sequencing any DNA prior to arresting you so he's going to go with just the dye. After that, if you can convince a jury that you just happened to spray yourself with invisible dye that fluoresces pink while painting your mom's apartment for her, you can probably convince them that the DNA you have on you is from mowing her grass.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:27 PM on October 19, 2010


Hey you guys know that The Diamond Age wasn't like a instructional manual right?
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on October 19, 2010


I look forward to McD's rolling out a scent marker for "Yes, this customer will buy fries, if you ask enough times".
posted by darth_tedious at 1:58 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's really cool that the idea of DNA as a unique identifier is being used for something other than genealogy and traditional biological experiments. This is kind of like an involuntary RFID tag. I imagine some enterprising entrepreneurs could develop cheap genetic marker detectors/readers and things could get really interesting.

Imagine walking into a new store/gallery/museum and your phone picking up the marker for that location. It looks up the marker online and pulls down real-time information about the exhibit/product.

But at the same time, it acts as a physical "cookie" that can be used to track and profile people. Combine it with some sort of time marker, and you can build a detailed profile of people's behavior.

To some extent, mobile phones and GPS removes the need for this, but I could see it developing in parallel with those technologies.

Obviously, the privacy implications are horrid, but I don't have much hope that legislators will tackle this ahead of time. We really need more education of the public on these near-future techs. Similar to the EU Technolife project.
posted by formless at 2:12 PM on October 19, 2010


Find some spray and get it on your enemy. Wait a few hours and call the police.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:23 PM on October 19, 2010


formless: I imagine some enterprising entrepreneurs could develop cheap genetic marker detectors/readers and things could get really interesting.

The conventional Sanger sequencing pathway, which is what you'd normally use to detect a marker like this, has three steps (PCR -> Sequencing -> Capillary gel electrophoresis) each of which takes at least an hour and usually more like 3-4.

You might be able to get a total system turnover of 4-6 hours from a molecular biologist who didn't have anything else to do and didn't care about wasting reagents with a partial run, if you pushed it through as fast as possible. But that's as fast as I can imagine running a sample like this using any method I know.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:56 PM on October 19, 2010


Open an umbrella?
posted by digsrus at 3:33 PM on October 19, 2010


Who would rob a McDonald's?

Only the young, newly married and desperately hungry.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:09 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was going to just use some kind of ultraviolet-readable ink, but those BASTARDS totally stole my idea!! I was going to write an invisible bar code up the whole body, and read it with some kind of scanner later on. Not sure how the writing end would write on the person without them feeling the spray, but maybe as they squeezed through a revolving door bottleneck?
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on October 19, 2010


Mitrovarr - well, if you made synthetic DNA with variable product lengths for three or four primer sets, you could turn a swab into a fingerprint in under 2 hours (an hour for a quick PCR with a modern unit, and another half hour or so to run the gel) without worrying about doing a sequence.

Different sequence giving different product lengths for the three/four primer sets for different store locations. If you made the DNA a smallish oligo, doing the PCR with modern enzymes and, say, a robocycler, it could take even less time and you could run it through a capillary instead of a gel. It's not completely unreasonable to think that you could get from a swab to a fingerprint in well under an hour.

I doubt that's what they're doing, though.
posted by porpoise at 6:39 PM on October 19, 2010


Now we finally know what's in the secret sauce.
posted by ...possums at 6:42 PM on October 19, 2010


Dammit, I'm out of booze again.

Dammit, need another sock puppet again. Where's my gun?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:39 PM on October 19, 2010


porpoise: It's not completely unreasonable to think that you could get from a swab to a fingerprint in well under an hour.

Eh, I don't think that's really possible. Not for a DNA sample like this. You can't do those super-accelerated protocols with a forensic sample - one of their requirements is that the DNA sample be uncontaminated (the fastest amplification steps are not stringent) and concentrated (letting you cut down on the cycles.) Having a potentially weak, contaminated DNA sequence pretty much limits you to a PCR protocol of normal length. Also, fast electrophoresis probably won't do so hot with accurately sizing 1 bp variation; that's kind of hard to do even with capillary machines, although you can do it now if you're careful.

Also, once you get into big sequences (with multiple priming sites and size-variable regions, as you suggest), they're not cheap to synthesize anymore. Not with modern methods... although better methods for creating large custom oligos wouldn't surprise me.

Actually, once the restriction on size is eliminated, I wonder if you could just detect them by hybridization? Make like 20 hybridization markers, incorporate a variable mix of them into the sequence, and then see which probes hybridize and which ones don't.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2010


Not saying that that would be what they'd be doing but if you wanted to spend the money, it could be done. PfuII runs a good Kb in 15 seconds. With multiple primer sets, contamination isn't as much of an issue. You don't need sequencing-grade separation; just look for the spikes like in HPLC. Say in 5 reactions, you get 150bp, 100, 250, 100, 250 spikes for primer sets A, B, C, D, and E... there you go. Standard 20-30bp primers ought to be sufficient.

ACABBCDED--E; minimum length 600bp (for this example). Throw in some header and tailer. Mix up the sequence and you get a different "fingerprint."

Clone the sequence into a plasmid; grow up a few hundred litres. Isolate plasmid, restriction out the sequence, and do a bulk size-inclusion/exclusion isolation. Heck, use a minimal backbone and don't even worry about making an oligo. Might have a problem with it getting into wild bacteria, though.

The hybridization idea is good... amplify the swab and run it over a chip and see which sector(s) light up.
posted by porpoise at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2010


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