To Catch Hamburglars, McDonald's Installs DNA-Spraying Security System

By Eliza Strickland | October 20, 2010 11:49 am

HamburglarA McDonald’s in the Dutch city of Rotterdam has decided to crack down on burglaries with a high-tech security system previously used in the city’s jewelry stores. To catch anyone who makes off with the cash from the till (or a bag of Big Macs), the store’s managers installed a device that stealthily sprays synthetic DNA on the thief.

The system involves a small, strategically placed orange box that shoots out synthetic DNA when an employee pulls an unusual trigger: Removing a €10 bill from a special bill clip behind the counter not only activates the device, it also alerts the police that a robbery is in progress. The synthetic DNA spray is visible under ultraviolet light and contains markers that are unique to that location’s device, allowing police to match a suspect with the locale.

The security-conscious McDonald’s advertises the presence of its system with a sign on the door reading, “You Steal, You’re Marked.” The New York Times explains that the effect of the device is, well, subtle:

The police acknowledge that they have yet to make an arrest based on the DNA mist, which was developed in Britain by two brothers, one a policeman and the other a chemist. But they credit its presence — and signs posted prominently warning of its use — for what they call a precipitous decline in crime rates (though they could not provide actual figures to back that up).

There have been misfires–some McDonald’s employees have grabbed the special €10 bill when there was no crime in progress, causing the police to rush to the scene. And some customers have been “inadvertently” sprayed. Happily, those customers weren’t accused of living lives of crime.

The owner of the company that distributes the spray, the Rhine Group, rather depressingly attributed the technique’s success to the ignorance of the McDonald’s-eating masses. From The New York Times:

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.”

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Image: flickr / EAWB

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment
  • Georg

    “Synthetic DNA”
    is Bigspeak, I think. I guess they use oligonucleotides,
    which need not more than half a dozen units to
    be “specific”.
    Of course DNA helps a lot to impress plain folks.
    Georg

  • http://hotmail.com sami

    um that is wierd :) hahahahahhah WEIRD YO…

  • http://hotmail.com sasha :)

    HELLO IM GONNA PRINT THIS FOR BIOLOGY MRS.Wachtel… :) tehe

  • http://hotmail.com leah

    hi mrs.wachtel.

  • shadegem

    “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.”
    New York Times, really? This doesn’t seem very approriate. For one, it’s the prescence of the DNA ( for oligonucleotides is too long for this comment), that marks a person, not how it interacts with the things around it. That would mean it would change appearance for every person it lands on and therefore there would be no certain marking. The appearance under UV light means it has a marker added into it. If placed under a UV light for too long, the DNA would break down, just like what happens to our DNA in our skin cells when we go unprotected for a long time on very sunny days. This means it’s not going to hold up in court systems unless a well-found analysis is recorded on it. Which probably won’t happen for a burger robbery.
    For two, genetics manipulates DNA in order to understand it and use it for its own devices.
    For three, one of the main problems would be finding and then scanning the bad guys when the stuff isn’t readily visible. Granted, they’d be less likely to change clothes immediately afterward, but it’s still not extremely effective. And how many people have a UV light on them?
    Please, feel free to correct me. I’m not sure if oligonucleotides have different properties than DNA in one’s cells, so I’m assuming they are similar (since they’re just DNA fragments formed by a machine with known DNA components)

  • AC

    Next week: Witchdoctors paid to place curses on fast-food thieves as they flee the store; robberies comitted by ‘conservatives’ drop 98 per-cent.

  • Violent J

    DNA, how does it work?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Ha! Good one, Violent J.

  • robert

    this is a pretty cool security system Too hightech for my home but very very cool.

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