Cut lumber for processing
Blaine Brownell Cut lumber for processing

DNA testing isn't just for humans anymore. As an article in the Sept. 22 issue of The Economist reveals, lumber companies and furniture manufacturers can now employ the services of DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies to reveal the true origins of wood specimens.

Because timber is a widely harvested resource that is transported around the globe, and therefore difficult to track, illegal logging and threats to endangered species are of constant concern. As forest stewardship practices are more carefully monitored for such improper or illicit activity, the ability to confirm a piece of lumber's actual pedigree is critical—especially for the reputations of companies that transform the material into commercial goods. Although chain-of-custody papers typically accompany lumber specimens, such documents can be forged. But according to DoubleHelix chief scientist Andrew Lowe, "You can’t forge DNA."

The service comes with a price: DoubleHelix will charge $250 to test $45,000 worth of Indonesian merbau, for example. Moreover, DoubleHelix has access to only about 20 species of trees, although comprehensive maps of other species will likely be added soon. These limitations are negligible, though, when viewed in the context of the global illegal logging industry, which is estimated to be a $30 billion dollar annual business.