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Today (25th April) is DNA Day, a day to celebrate the contribution that the discovery of DNA has made to scientific advancement: from medical science and genetics to forensic techniques. 

Held every year on 25th April and founded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, DNA Day celebrates one of the most significant developments in molecular biology: the discovery of the double helix in 1953.

This incredible breakthrough by James Watson and Francis Crick didn’t just give us unprecedented insight into the human body, becoming the basis for numerous medical treatments, it also laid the foundation for DNA profiling 30 years later.

To mark DNA Day, Casey Randall, Head of DNA at AlphaBiolabs, discusses how DNA testing has become more accessible, helping ordinary people find out the truth about their biological relationships.

Casey Randall

Long before we had fast, reliable at-home paternity testing, or the capability to analyse DNA for forensic purposes, the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was a mystery that remained unsolved – that is until 1953.

Although it’s common knowledge among geneticists, many people won’t know that the discovery of the double helix – the molecular structure of our DNA – was made by a team that included esteemed British scientists.

Instrumental to the discovery of the double helix was an x-ray diffraction image of DNA, known as Photo 51, created by English chemist and x-ray crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin.

Using this photograph, Francis Crick, an English molecular biologist, biophysicist & neuroscientist, and James Watson, an American molecular biologist, geneticist & zoologist, developed a model for the helical structure of DNA, the molecule that contains hereditary information for cells.

Yet even with this discovery it would be another 30 years before DNA profiling – the backbone of modern-day DNA analysis – became a reality.

It was in 1984 that British geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys, now widely known as the pioneer of genetic fingerprinting and DNA profiling, developed techniques that are still used today not just to solve crime, but to distinguish between different people’s DNA in the laboratory.

The process involves comparing the lengths of variable sections of repetitive DNA, such as short tandem repeat (STR) markers, between people.

Human DNA sequences differ by 0.1 per cent, meaning that scientists only have a tiny amount to distinguish between individuals.

However, STR markers are highly variable in length between individuals, making DNA testing the most accurate and scientific way to identify someone.

DNA testing for the masses

It’s truly amazing to think about just how far-reaching DNA analysis has become since the discovery of the double helix.

Today, DNA profiling is accessible to everyone and is used daily around the world.

Better still, advances in DNA technology and analysis mean it is possible to submit your DNA samples for testing without the need for a sample collector to visit your home.

Hundreds of thousands of people use DNA tests to prove that two or more people are biologically related, from paternity and prenatal paternity tests, to maternity, grandparent, aunt or uncle, twin, sibling, and Y chromosome tests.

In most cases, all that is required to verify a biological relationship between individuals is a simple cheek (buccal) swab: a quick and painless method of DNA sample collection that lends itself perfectly to home testing.

By swabbing the inside of the cheek to collect buccal (cheek) cells, expert geneticists can analyse and compare DNA samples from two or more people to determine whether they are likely to be related to one another.

At the laboratory, scientists compare the observed DNA profiles from the samples and consider the probability of any potential relationships.

Paternity tests, for example, work by comparing the STR markers of a child with those of the alleged father. With an AlphaBiolabs paternity test, secure, password-protected results are emailed either same-day or next-day. *

* Working days from when DNA samples are received by the laboratory. Samples must arrive at the laboratory by 10am.

Easier DNA sample collection

No matter how successful one method of analysis may be, scientists are always looking for ways to innovate and improve.

The move towards cheek cell DNA analysis for DNA tests has certainly simplified the process, meaning that an individual can collect their own DNA samples at home with a simple mouth swab.

However, the need for a cheek swab does mean that a DNA sample cannot be collected without the sample donor’s active participation.

This can make it tricky if you want to do a paternity test, but performing a cheek swab on an older child could lead to awkward questions.

For this reason, AlphaBiolabs has continued to evolve the DNA testing process, making sample collection even more accessible and discreet.

For example, for a child under the age of 16 (for whom only an adult with parental responsibility must provide consent) a toothbrush DNA test or nail DNA test can make things even easier.

When submitting a toothbrush for DNA testing, all an individual needs to do is send the child’s regular, used toothbrush to the laboratory.

With nail clipping DNA analysis, both fingernail clippings and toenail clippings can be used, although toenails are preferred as these are less likely to have been contaminated by other biological material.

As many fingernail or toenail clippings as possible should be provided, so that scientists have a larger nail sample to analyse.

When the toothbrush or nail clippings are received at the laboratory, a viability study is performed to ascertain whether a DNA profile can be extracted from the sample.

If a DNA profile can be extracted, the chosen DNA relationship test (e.g. paternity, grandparent, etc) can be performed in the usual way, by analysing and comparing two or more individuals’ DNA samples.

For as long as people have relationship queries, scientific methods will continue to advance, enabling people to find the answers they need as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Casey Randall, Head of DNA at AlphaBiolabs

Where can I buy a DNA test on DNA Day?

AlphaBiolabs offers a wide range of DNA tests to suit every need, from paternity and prenatal paternity tests, to complex DNA relationship tests including sibling, twin, grandparent, and aunt/uncle tests.

From just £99, with just a simple cheek swab required (in most cases), you can quickly and easily find out the truth about your family relationships.

As a leading provider of DNA testing in the UK, AlphaBiolabs is proud to offer one of the fastest turnaround times in the industry for DNA test results, including same-day results*.

We also analyse up to 42 DNA markers – double the industry standard – so you can be sure of a 100% accurate and reliable result.

Please note that written consent (a signature) must be provided by any person aged 16 or over whose DNA samples are being submitted for testing.

It’s easy to order your DNA test online now. Alternatively, call our friendly and discreet Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 and we’ll help you find the test that’s best for you.

If you require a DNA test for legal matters, request a quote online now, email testing@alphabiolabs.com or call 0333 600 1300 and a member of our legal sales team will be happy to discuss your requirements.

* Not available on all tests.

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