Paternity testing made easy
By Kevin J. Gray
Perhaps this article would be more appropriate say, nine or 10 months after the annual Sex Issue? All kidding aside, dealing with paternity is serious business, and it has gotten cheaper and easier in recent years. In fact, it’s gotten so easy, relatively, that in New York City, the Health Street alliance runs two 27-foot Winnebagos affectionately known as the “Who’s Your Daddy trucks” that offer mobile paternity testing to NYC residents.
Locally, ARCpoint Labs of Dayton is one of only a small handful of full-service companies in the area that offers complete DNA testing services, including paternity testing. I spoke with Jeff Back, owner of the Dayton branch, about modern paternity testing. The first thing Back explained was how quick and easy the process has become: “The process is very simple, much simpler now than it was years ago, because it used to involve having blood drawn, but now we do it with a cheek swab. So really, us doing the paperwork for a chain of custody in order to do the test takes no longer than actually swabbing the cheek. […] They come in, fill out paperwork, we swab their cheek and that’s essentially it. And then it takes about 3-5 days to turn the results around, and then we either call them or email them with the results.”
How accurate is the testing? Back explains that accuracy depends somewhat on how many parties are being tested. And before you start thinking about an episode of the “Jerry Springer Show,” Back explains that “parties tested” usually just means the child and the alleged father. With just child and prospective parent, Back explains that the results are usually 99.999 percent either “Match” or “No Match.” If the mother’s DNA is also included in the sample, that rate goes even closer to 100 percent. There are cases where multiple prospective fathers are tested, but the norm is closer to a single male.
How does the testing work? Without getting too deep into the science of it, think about DNA like you do fingerprints. We all have them, and they are all unique. Yet, fingerprints are simply arrangements of generic skin cells. DNA is similar. Each person’s is unique, but what makes it unique is that each person’s DNA is a blend of his or her parents – a little from mom, a little from dad and voilà, a unique combination.
DNA paternity testing involves isolating attributes of DNA called alleles. Alleles are alternate forms of genes – meaning a single gene can have several different variants, which control things like physical appearance. Children will have the same alleles as at least one of their parents. So, in a full DNA mapping where both the mother and father are tested, labs can isolate out the mother’s alleles. What’s left should map to the father’s DNA. If it does, the prospective father is indeed the daddy. If it doesn’t, someone may have some explaining to do.
To get a full sampling of the DNA, the techs at ARCpoint swab both sides of the upper and lower cheeks of each person being tested. As Back points out, the process is so much less invasive than blood samples. Especially when dealing with children. While kids may be apprehensive about testing at first, after the first swab they are generally able to relax. Cheek testing started in the 1990s and soon became accepted as the gold standard for DNA testing. According to Back, it’s now as accurate, or more so, than blood samples and is much more efficient and faster to collect DNA.
Once the swabs are collected, they are stored in sterile containers and shipped to an offsite lab. That lab, which must be accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks, sends the reports back to ARCpoint, which, in turn, passes them onto the affected families. The whole process costs somewhere between $300-$400. And because of their careful record keeping, their standardized processes and the partnership with an AABB-accredited lab, all paternity tests that ARCpoint conducts are deemed accurate enough to be admissible in court.
If shows like “Maury Povich” and “Jerry Springer” are to be believed, somewhere in all this, a giant fight breaks out. Not the case, says Back. Paternity testing is usually a calm affair that is either ordered by the courts or requested by one of the attorneys. In a contested situation, the mother and child come in to be tested in one session, while the alleged father comes in at another time. That approach keeps the whole process orderly and without incident.
Want to get a paternity test, or interested in other DNA testing services, including tracking your ancestry? Check out ARCpoint’s website at arcpointlabs.com/dayton-oh.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.