Crosslinked Porous Protein Crystals with Guest Barcode DNA

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed highly porous, cross-linked protein crystals for storing and protecting barcode DNA.

Synthetic DNA sequences serve as a barcodes and can be engineered to be easily distinguished from natural DNA sequences and easily detected using qPCR or next-generation sequencing.

These porous protein crystals provide protection from potential environmental degradative agents; thus, the information encoded DNA will persist for long periods of time, remain unaltered, and are nontoxic upon ingestion.


Marking materials with a unique symbol, tattoo, or signature is a common technique for monitoring product flow through supply chain, maintaining product inventory, assessing authenticity, and determining product age.

Barcodes are often included on an external, visual label of most materials/goods which can be later scanned for downstream monitoring, but which also can provide an opportunity for subversive duplication.

For some applications, ideal ‘barcodes’ should remain visually undetected, greatly increasing the difficulty of illicitly reading and copying the unique signature. DNA barcodes can be used in these applications and possess a much higher information capacity than most currently used barcodes. However, DNA by itself is sensitive to degradation and finding a carrier mechanism to allow the DNA to be protected and transported is a key need.

The protein crystal can be loaded with DNA that was synthesized to have a custom, readable identifier. The DNA is protected within the pores of the crystals and studies have shown successful extraction of the DNA strands from the crystals. DNA can be removed selectively and without destroying the crystal, allowing the crystal to potentially be reused or have continued use, depending on the application. This is an important variation from other techniques to use DNA for tracking that fully encapsulate the DNA, but then must destroy the encapsulation to read the barcode. Other advantages of protein crystals are their biocompatibility, and biodegradability over time. These DNA loaded protein crystals have been successfully used to track mosquitos as part of disease vector research. The barcoded crystals persisted throughout mosquito development when ingested by larvae and did not significantly affect adult mosquito survivorship.


  • Ability to mark various materials or for tracking
  • Ability to tune the long-term degradation rate
  • Ability to control the size of the crystals
  • Biodegradable and advantageous to labeling living systems (e.g., edible barcodes)
  • Open-ended honeycomb geometry ensures high capacity
  • Offers loading/unloading schemes that are not feasible with full encapsulation


  • Commodity product barcoding (e.g., pharmaceuticals that encode the manufacturer, lot, and pill number allows tracking of pharmaceuticals with high tendency for misuse; trackable munitions for military)
  • Anti-counterfeiting (e.g., large bills, artwork, or other valuables could be given their own persistent covert DNA sequence)
  • Environmental tracking – biomolecules can be advantageous biodegradable tracker particles for observing material flows in the environment (e.g. watersheds).
  • Abiotic DNA barcoding would allow the power of metagenomic sequencing to be applied to entirely new kinds of problems.
  • Disease vector tracking in mosquitos and other animals
Last Updated: May 2022
cross linked porous protein crystals for bar codes

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