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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Football

Fingerprinting Super Bowl Footballs

So your dream of going to the big game fell through this year. Maybe now your hopes are set on buying one of the 150 or so official pigskins put in play. You'll be sure to get a good view of the balls, because of the new, 3-D instant replay system¿called EyeVision¿installed at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. And thanks to a novel use of synthetic DNA, you can be sure you won't get cheated at the cash register later. For the second year in a row, the National Football League is using bioengineered tamper-proof DNA tags to mark the game-related memorabilia.

The technology¿which was also used to thwart counterfeiters on merchandise from the Sydney Olympics¿comes from the Los Angeles-based firm DNA Technologies. In short, they imbed a DNA sequence within an ink to create the final label, which is invisible to the naked eye. The result can be decoded¿or verified¿only by using DNA sequencing equipment in a lab. At Super Bowl XXXV, each football will be marked as it comes off the field by Professional Sports Authenticators, based in Newport Beach, Calif. This same company attached DNA to the baseball and bat Hank Aaron used to hit his 715th home run in 1974.

If you do get your hands on one of the coveted balls, you will also receive a DNA-marked certificate of authenticity. Apart from all the usual advice to keep your ball clear of mothers' lamps and neighbors' windows, you might also want to keep it away from sunlight and bleach, lest the DNA degrade.

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