Paternity Testing Process

Paternity Testing Science

What is DNA?

DNA is everywhere.  Your body contains as many as 100 trillion cells, all serving important functions, from protecting your organs, to carrying oxygen, to creating life through reproduction.  Despite the incredible diversity of cells, each cell (except for red blood cells) shares a single important trait: a nucleus.  The nucleus holds genetic information that is identical from cell to cell, bundled into molecules called Deoxyribonucleic Acid, or DNA for short.

Every cell contains the same genetic information, and every cell on your body is a potential source of DNA; skin cells, hair roots, and cells carried within saliva provide just a few examples.

Collecting DNA Samples for Paternity Testing

Paternity Testing requires a clean sample (a sample free of contaminants and other DNA) with a good amount of DNA. While IDENTIGENE can extract DNA from almost any specimen type, our standard DNA Paternity Test uses easy and non-invasive cheek swabs. IDENTIGENE customers rub the swab against their cheek for about twenty seconds.  The swab’s special mesh tip (not cotton) grabs loose cells for DNA testing and typically provides more than enough DNA for a single use, such as a paternity test.

Extracting the DNA

Genetic scientists use many methods to extract DNA from cells. All methods use three basic steps:

  1. Lyse (break open) the cells
  2. Separate the DNA from the rest of the cell
  3. Collect the pure DNA in a single sample, ready for testing

Using a special chemical process, we break open the collected cells.  This separates the DNA from the nucleus and leaves the scientist with a liquid that contains DNA along with other cell parts not needed for testing, such as proteins and lipids.   We then separate the DNA from the other cell parts using sophisticated robotics.

The extraction robot uses more chemicals to transfer the DNA mixture to tiny silica-based nano-beads (one billionth of a meter in size); the DNA sticks to the beads while the other cell parts are washed away. 

The final step, the elution step, removes the DNA from the beads. The robot collects the pure DNA, which is now ready for the next step in the paternity testing process.

PCR: Amplifying (Copying) the DNA

So, exactly how do we get all those numbers from a cheek swab? Advances in DNA testing technology enable scientists to transform extracted DNA into a probability of paternity.

The DNA scientist puts the extracted DNA into a special solution containing primers.  Like toner in a biological copy machine, primers find and make copies of the DNA sample – just those specific regions that we need for a paternity test. 

The copy process begins by separating the double-stranded DNA – simply by turning up the heat. As the solution cools, the primers bind to single-stranded DNA, making two copies of the original.  We repeat this process (heating and cooling the DNA and the primers) 28 times, making millions of copies of tiny DNA fragments that can now be detected and viewed by a special machine called a genetic analyzer.

Scientists refer to this “biological copy machine” process as Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR.

Measuring DNA for Paternity Testing

The complete PCR process makes copies of 16-18 Genetic Systems (sometimes called markers or loci) to make one DNA Profile: 15-17 markers useful for paternity and 1 gender marker (used for verification).  Each individual person has different sizes or lengths of DNA fragments at each Genetic System.  Special software measures the different sizes of the DNA sections, represented by two numbers (alleles) at each Genetic System on your paternity test report. We use this information to answer your paternity question.

Paternity Test Reporting

A child’s DNA Profile will be a combination of 1/2 the father’s markers and 1/2 the mother’s markers. If the tested (alleged) father does not share matching markers with the child, then the tested man is excluded as the biological father (he is not the father). If the DNA Profiles do match, the father is not excluded (he is the father) and the probability of paternity is reported (typically greater than 99.99%).

For more information on how probability of paternity is calculated see Paternity Test Results.

If you have any questions about your Paternity Test Results, please contact us (Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 8 PM ET).


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