What is a DNA Paternity Test?

Keith Koons

A deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) paternity test is the process of establishing the biological paternal relationship between an individual and his alleged child based on the analysis of sample cells taken from each of them. It rests on the principle that each DNA sample contains the genetic code of the human body, which is formed from the random combination of hereditary genes from both parents through sexual reproduction. Except for identical twins, each person has a unique DNA structure which becomes his genetic fingerprint, yet at the same time shares a common DNA sequence pattern with other family members. When properly conducted, a DNA paternity test provides results that are more than 99.9% accurate.

Identical twins have identical DNA, since they were born from the same fertilized egg.
Identical twins have identical DNA, since they were born from the same fertilized egg.

Despite the availability of other paternity tests, the DNA test is the most popular because aside from its high degree of reliability, it is also a non-invasive and painless process. A DNA paternity test process begins with sample gathering, in which an applicator with a sponge fixed at its tip is swabbed inside the cheeks to obtain surface cells. Samples are then treated with a special type of enzyme that breaks down the DNA into fragments with a very specific sequence that is distinctive to the person.

DNA paternity tests are performed to establish the biological paternal relationship between an man and his alleged child based on cells taken from each of them.
DNA paternity tests are performed to establish the biological paternal relationship between an man and his alleged child based on cells taken from each of them.

Sequences produced from the father’s and the child’s DNA tests are then analyzed and compared to see if there are common genetic markers to establish paternity. When performed in a testing facility, a DNA paternity test is usually completed in just a few hours. The test also can be done at home, however. A home test takes a few days more since sample cells have to be mailed to a laboratory for processing and analysis.

DNA paternity tests are non-invasive and painless.
DNA paternity tests are non-invasive and painless.

In many cases, a DNA paternity test is used to settle disputes in child custody situations and on claims for child support, inheritance, and insurance benefits. In many countries, applicants and beneficiaries in family-based immigration cases are also required to get a DNA paternity test when documents to establish their familial relationship are not available. For this legal purpose, the test must be taken at a government-accredited laboratory for the results to be admissible in a legal proceeding. This is because a licensed paternity testing lab is required by law to strictly observe the chain of custody guidelines which establish the authenticity of the samples and of the individuals from whom the samples are taken. Governments in various countries regulate the standards and the processes in DNA paternity testing because the results have serious implications on the lives of family members.

Some countries use DNA paternity testing in immigration cases.
Some countries use DNA paternity testing in immigration cases.

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