The dos and don’ts of buying an online DNA test

The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of businesses to close their doors to the public, with many companies moving to an ‘online only’ service. This includes DNA testing labs – they may no longer be testing customers in their offices or medical centers, but is still possible to order a DNA test online and provide the samples yourself. This kind of home DNA test poses no risk to the customer or the lab workers because it involves no direct human contact. You simply receive your testing kit in the mail, follow the instructions, put everything back in the envelope, send it away and wait for your results.

Paternity tests are amongst the most popular type of DNA test, but most labs offer a wide array of relationship testing – such as maternity testing, tests for identical twins, prenatal DNA testing, along with testing for siblings, grandparent, aunts, uncles and so on.

If you urgently need the answers that can only be provided with a DNA test, and you can’t wait until after the lockdown is over, a home DNA test might be for you. We’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right kind of test and the right company.

Why do you need the test?

Remember that a home paternity test is only intended to give personal answers. If you need to take the results to court or use them for any sort of official purposes, you will need a legal test instead. Legal DNA tests have to be conducted in person, by a qualified sample collector.

Home DNA tests are sometimes referred to as a ‘peace of mind test’ because that’s all they should be used for – your own reassurance and peace of mind.

Understand the limits of the DNA test

A paternity test carried out by a good lab will be over 99.99% accurate, effectively giving you a clear-cut yes or no answer. That’s because a child inherits precisely 50% of their DNA from each parent, making it easy to determine whether or not the child and the alleged father are related.

But other relationships are less clear-cut. Take for example a sibling DNA test. A full biological pair of siblings will share on average 50% of their DNA, but it can be much more or much less. A sibling test can provide a probability of two people being related, but the results aren’t always conclusive. In this scenario, a different kind of test might be more effective – for example if a pair of brothers wanted to be tested, a Y chromosome test would give a much more conclusive result.

Speak to the DNA company beforehand and explain to them what you want to get out of the test. They might be able to recommend something more suitable.

Only ever use an accredited lab

There are hundreds of commercial testing labs out there. Some are reputable companies, but some are just cowboys who will take your money and provide questionable (or downright false) results.

The only way to know for sure that a lab is trustworthy is if they have been ISO accredited. They should mention this on their website. You can also check their status yourself on the ISO website or UKAS (UK only).

Are you prepared for the result?

The outcome of a paternity or maternity test can have truly life-altering consequences – for you, your children, your partner or your entire family. Be prepared for either result, not matter how sure you think you are. Before you order the test, it might be wise to talk it over with someone you trust.