Phylagen Origin: track and trace using microbial DNA

I started my MBA with Quantic school of business and technology last week. My favourite part of studying at a university is the lecture series, and this evening I attended (virtually) my first guest lecture delivered by Jessica Green from Phylageny

All geographic locations have a unique microbial DNA signature. These genetic codes can be used to identify where a product or material has come from in the same way as DNA testing is used in criminology. The company uses the blockchain to store critical information for companies so that checks can be carried out along a supply chain and authenticate that the genetic markers such as the origin factory are as expected.

Phylagen Origin is a startup service that collects genetic material from locations worldwide and uses these to provide traceability. Examples include:

  • Verifying a ships log from dust particles on that boat.
  • Checking T-shirts come from a specific factory and not from outsourced factories with lower labour standards.
  • Checking medicines come from authorised materials. 
  • Tracing the origin or raw materials such as cotton, the product journey, and growing practices.

Phylagen collects DNA samples, generates the microbiome features, and then uses machine learning to distinguish features. Tracking cotton involves collecting cotton samples from around the world, logging their features, and then allowing machine learning to create a model of these features to use against future samples. When an unknown sample is tested, its genetic fingerprint is then crossreferenced to the model and a probability generated for its origin and any other characteristics modelled. 

The talk was fascinating and showed a glimpse of how new technologies such as microbiome testing, the blockchain, and machine learning can be used to solve genuine issues. It will be possible in the future to ensure a product you buy has not used slave labour at any stage of the supply chain, track pollution back to offending companies, or follow the spread of infectious diseases back to the source.  

I am happy to be back at University.

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