October 31, 2018

Synthetic DNA technology could help protect rare books


Palm Beach’s Raptis Rare Books

Last week we gathered in this space to worry aloud about the come hither looks we’ve been seeing exchanged between private technology companies and law enforcement.

But we also devote much of this space to rare book thefts that might have been prevented with the right technological solution. How to work through these crushing ideological contradictions?

Enter Raptis Rare Books in Palm Beach, Florida, the first bookseller in the United States to employ a new loss prevention technology known as synthetic DNA.

As Barbara Basbanes Richter reports for Fine Books & Collections, the technology comes from another Flordia-based company SelectaDNA. Richter writes:

“Think of each unit of synthetic DNA as a high-tech fingerprint,” explained SelectaDNA vice president Joe Maltese. “Each application of Synthetic DNA generates a unique code, providing clients with the ability to identify and recover lost or stolen rare books. Raptis is using the technology to demonstrate their rare books have been authenticated and sold by them.”

Raptis now places a letter R in each of their books, “stamped” in the synthetic DNA serum, which helps them identify each unique item. The serum stamp can last five years inside of a book. The synthetic DNA can also be incorporated into an alarm system that sprays attempted burglars, leaving a trace on their skin that can be identified up to six weeks later.


Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.