A father who gave up his home in a divorce deal is going back to court after discovering the child he loves is not his. The paternity test result was there in black and white but even so, James did not want to believe it: “Based on the genetic testing results … the alleged father is excluded as the biological father of the child. The probability of paternity is 0%.” In other words, his beloved 17-year-old daughter Ella wasn’t his after all.

It was something James had suspected but the reality was crushing — he commissioned a second DNA test, with a different laboratory, hoping there might have been a mistake. That test, too, confirmed he could not be Ella’s father. The difficulties experienced by Ella’s father in the article are not unusual.

Nowadays, the widespread availability of information regarding DNA testing, and its power to reveal the truth, means that its use in such cases is increasing. However, those using DNA analysis must understand that the testing can reveal a ‘skeletonin-the-closet’, whether people are aware of the possibility of its existence or not.

As in the article, this can come as an unwelcome shock to those involved. DNA analysis reveals the truth and sometimes the truth hurts.

DNA tests became available in the late 1980s, a few years after the initial discovery of the groundbreaking technique of ‘DNA fingerprinting’ by Prof Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicestershire. There have been many changes to the process in the intervening 20 or so years.

Originally, DNA was extracted for the test from a blood sample taken from the donor by their GP or Practice Nurse. The testing required the use of some fairly harsh chemicals and the production of the DNA profile used radioactive isotopes and at least a week’s exposure of a photographic film in a freezer at -70°C.The whole process took, on average, about four weeks.

Nowadays, all our analysis can be performed on DNA extracted from a simple, cotton wool mouth swab, a sampling process that is painless to the donor. Gratifyingly, the extraction is far less chemically-involved, there is no radioactive exposure required and the whole process typically takes 2 to 3 days. As for the costs, they have halved.