It looks like a harmless mist, similar to what an air-freshener would emit. But it could be the latest tool to fight crime, and it might be coming to the United States.
Called SelectaDNA Spray, it is already being used in the United Kingdom, Europe and New Zealand, and talks are underway to bring it to the U.S., according to a report on AOL News.
Here's how it works: A business is being robbed. A worker can press a panic button that shoots out a fine mist of synthetic DNA, covering everything, especially the robber. Later, if the robber is caught, police can use an ultraviolet light to see the product on him. And since each batch of the spray has a unique DNA signature, it can be used to tie him to the crime.
It is also very hard to wash off. "It will come off within a number of hand washes," Andrew Knights, managing director of SelectaDNA, told AOL News. "But if you run through a spray it'll accumulate on the inside of your nostrils and ears and under the fingernails; areas that are difficult to get off." And, he notes, if a criminal doesn't have an ultraviolet light, he won't know where the liquid is lurking.
The mist has been used successfully so far, although the evidence has not been presented during a prosecution yet. But Knight said the ultraviolet evidence has been enough to scare robbers into confessing.
"The criminal knows it's better to make a plea bargain, rather than annoy the police even further by forcing them to go through the DNA testing," Knights said. At least one robber has done just that.
The idea behind SelectaDNA is not to capture criminals, but to deter them from committing the crime in the first place.
"Retailers are investing in this technology because they want to move the crime on somewhere else," Knights said. "They are just out to protect their property and staff." Businesses that use SelectaDNA spray display bright yellow signs that read "Warning. SelectaDNA spray system installed here."
It seems to be working. U.K. say between January and May burglaries in one rough London neighborhood fell by 65% after police distributed SelectaDNA marking kits to previously robbed businesses and vulnerable residents.
One shop owner is convinced the spray has saved his business from robbers. "We are 100 yards away from the Co-op store [that was robbed in April], and there is a betting shop a few doors away [that was broken into in September]," Altaf Kazi said. "We are in the middle of those two shops and have been left alone. I am pretty sure that is to do with the DNA spray being in place and the sign in the window warning potential burglars that the system is operating."