Home DNA testing kits are becoming extremely popular – especially when it comes to settling disputes about the paternity of a child. Simply take a cheek swab, send it away to a lab and get your results back in a matter of days.
But how accurate and reliable is modern DNA testing? Can the results be trusted, and will they hold up in court? After all, the results can be potentially life-altering. Read on to find out how to get a reliable result.
Use an accredited lab
Whichever DNA testing company you choose, make sure that they are properly accredited. UKAS accreditation indicates that a lab has been assessed against internationally recognised standards to demonstrate their competence, impartiality and performance capability. Don’t risk using a cheaper service that isn’t properly certified, as you run the risk of contaminated samples, poorly trained staff, inaccurate results or just plain dishonesty.
Who is collecting the samples?
DNA testing companies usually offer two types of paternity test – a ‘peace of mind’ test and a ‘legal’ test.
As the name implies, the peace of mind test is intended for your own curiosity and peace of mind only. With a peace of mind test, the people involved are trusted to collect and post the samples themselves. The scientific process used to analyse the DNA will be sound, and the result will be accurate – assuming that the correct samples were submitted and weren’t tampered with. This kind of test is convenient, as you can do everything at home, but the results will not hold up in court and cannot be used to settle things like child support disputes, child custody, immigration matters or changing birth certificates.
With a legal DNA test, the samples are collected under controlled conditions – either by a trained professional employed by the lab or a doctor. Once collected, the samples are transported back to the lab under a controlled and recorded chain of custody. Legal tests are usually more expensive, but unlike a peace of mind test, they can be used to settle legal matters.
Why do labs promise 99.9% accuracy? Why not 100%?
To answer this question, we need to make a distinction between accuracy and probability.
A DNA test carried out by an accredited lab will be 100% accurate. So where does the 99.9% figure come from? That figure refers to the probability that two people are related.
Statistically, there is a minute possibility that two unrelated strangers could share identical DNA. The odds are tiny, but not impossible. That’s why when a child and an alleged father are tested, the results are either 0% chance of the two being related, or a 99.9% probability that they are related. To be 100% certain, you would have to test every man on earth!
Thinking about getting a paternity DNA test?
Be sure to use a trustworthy company with the proper accreditation, and ask for a legal DNA test if necessary. If you are based in the UK, the government website has a list of accredited testing laboratories. If you are in the United States, AlphaBiolabs is an accredited lab that sells home paternity testing kits.