Alternative Non-Standard DNA Samples

What items other than mouth swabs can be tested for DNA?

Journey Genetic Testing’s sample testing process allows you to put your mind at ease without anyone else knowing. Discreet DNA testing involves collecting non-buccal swab DNA samples from the people in question and sending them into our lab for comparison.

If you choose to test someone without their knowledge, there are some samples that provide a better opportunity for obtaining a usable genetic profile than others.  Much of our testing is done using samples such as hair, fingernail clippings, ear wax swabs, a toothbrush, cigarette butts, and chewing gum. We can’t guarantee that DNA will be found on the sample that you provide to us, but if it does contain enough DNA to obtain a profile, we can compare it to another DNA profile to determine paternity, maternity, sibling, grandparent, and avuncular relationships. Non-standard samples collected at home do not meet AABB guidelines for legal DNA testing.

Note: The success rate for alternative DNA samples is not as high as with standard mouth swabs. The success rate depends on the quality of the DNA material. NEVER put non-standard samples into plastic or zip-lock style bags. Always put the DNA sample into a paper envelope to allow it protection and keep it as safe as possible from contamination from bacteria. When sending a non-standard DNA sample it must fit into a standard size envelope. If the sample is larger than the envelope size, please trim the sample to only include the area to be tested (for example, ball cap, clothing, feminine pad, etc).

The list of various non-standard DNA samples listed below is only provided as a guideline, since it is not just the type of sample that is important but also other variables such as :

1. Poor storage conditions (e.g. damp environment, extreme heat or cold etc)
2. Poor sample handling (possible contamination with other DNA or dirt)
3. Not enough DNA present (e.g. heavily used toothbrush vs used once only)

Every effort will be made to obtain useable DNA from the item(s) you send. Helping you get the answers you need through DNA is as important to us as it is to you. If DNA can be found and used on a non-standard DNA sample, we will make sure it happens!

Alternative DNA Samples FAQs

Any hair submitted must have roots or the follicle attached. Hair that is cut will not produce significant DNA. In some people, traces of DNA may be found in the hair itself, not only in its root, but this is quite rare. In most cases, nuclear DNA is broken down into its building blocks, and if a hair lacks a root, it will be impossible to extract a useful DNA sample.

When submitting a hair sample, make sure that you do not touch the part with the follicle as much as possible to avoid contamination. The hair can be sent in a normal paper envelope and marked clearly as a non-standard sample. The lab will normally require a minimum of 6-10 hairs (or as many as possible) although in many cases you may only have access to one or two hairs. The more the hairs available, the more the chance of obtaining a DNA profile from them.

Cigarette butts can be an excellent source of DNA if the sample has not been contaminated by exposure to possible contaminating agents. The more the cigarette has been smoked the more DNA is likely to be available. If the cigarette has been shared it is likely that a mixed DNA profile will be obtained, in which case a more specialized analysis will be required. You should make sure that the sample is not handled from the end used to inhale the smoke. Ideally you should submit 2-4 cigarette butts if available. The butt can be sent in a paper envelope and marked clearly as a non-standard sample.

A toothbrush can be a good source of DNA if the sample has not been contaminated by exposure possible contaminating agents. The more the toothbrush has been used the more DNA is likely to be available. If the toothbrush has been shared, it is possible that a mixed DNA profile will be obtained, in which case a more specialized analysis will be required.

You should make sure that the sample is not handled from the end of the bristles to avoid contamination. Also, the brush should be air dried for about 30-60 minutes to ensure that it is properly dried before sending to the laboratory. The toothbrush can be sent in a normal paper envelope and marked clearly as a non-standard sample.

Blood samples can take many forms including whole blood, blood spots on paper or other material (tissues, clothing, and furniture), dried blood etc. Blood used to be the most common form of submitting DNA samples for DNA paternity tests until the advent of buccal swabs. It is now rarely requested as it is invasive as opposed to the non-invasive and painless nature of a buccal swab.

Fresh blood sent in a tube will provide a very good sample for DNA testing although in such a case, if the person is available for taking blood, a buccal swab is recommended instead. A buccal swab looks like a long handled cotton swab and the collection process is painless.

In cases where blood is sent as spots on some form of material, the success of the extraction will depend on the state of the blood and whether it has been exposed to possible contaminates such as the elements, cleaning agents or other chemical agents.

Please note that blood DNA testing does not mean that paternity is determined by blood typing. Blood typing is not an accurate method to determine paternity.

It is possible to extract DNA from nails and nail clippings. Freshly trimmed nails (within the last week) work best and have the highest chance of success. Nails are normally recommended (apart from hair) in cases where the person has recently died and a sample for DNA profiling is required. It is important to minimize the direct contact with the nails as much as possible to avoid possible contamination. The nails can be sent in a normal paper envelope and marked clearly as a non-standard sample.

In the case of liquid semen, it is recommended that the sample is absorbed through a clean cotton swab and air-dried for about one hour.

In the case of dried semen stains, either send the material directly to the laboratory or absorb the stain onto a clean cotton swab that has been moistened with distilled water. Then air-dry for about an hour. The samples can then be sent in a paper envelope and marked clearly as a non-standard sample.

Chewing gum can be a good source of DNA if the sample has not been contaminated by exposure possible contaminating agents. Sugar free gum is preferred to the normal type of gum. It is important to try not to touch the gum with the fingers as this can lead to contamination. The gum can be sent in the foil wrapper that the gum came in, and the placed in a paper envelope marked clearly as a non-standard sample.

Licked envelopes and stamps can provide a source of DNA for paternity testing purposes. However, there is greater risk of obtaining no DNA since it is not always possible to know if the stamp and envelope have been licked or not.

In cases where there has been no contact with a person’s saliva, then it is clearly not possible to obtain DNA. In addition, the sticking agent can inhibit the collection of the DNA at the laboratory. Because of this, we classify this type of sample with a low success rate although with good quality samples it has not been a problem to obtain clear and clean DNA profiles to be used for DNA paternity and relationship testing purposes.

When submitting the sample, you should make certain not to touch the seals and the back of the stamp to minimize possible contamination.

No, we cannot. Ashes from cremation are useless to test, as they will not contain DNA. 

Whenever possible, use rubber or latex gloves. Try to never touch the part of the non-standard sample that contains the DNA. NEVER put the sample into a plastic baggie, as a regular paper envelope is a great way to store your DNA sample.

DNA Sample Comments Success Rate
Buccal/cotton swab Swabbing of cheek inside of the mouth 99.99%
Whole blood Medical blood tube drawn in Vacutainer 99.99%
Blood stains Band-aids, tampons, bloody tissues 90%
Semen Cotton swab from condom, undergarments, clothing, etc. 90%
Dried umbilical cord Enclosed in a paper container 90%
Used tissue Nasal mucus/discharge 80%
Hair At least 5-7 strands with roots (bulb at bottom of hair) 80%
Toothbrush Air-dry the toothbrush for 30 minutes 80%
Dental floss Do not touch with fingers 75%
Nail clippings Newly cut and stored in paper envelope 75%
Ear wax Cotton swab or “Q-tip” 65%
Chewing gum Sugar-free is preferable, stored in foil gum wrapper 50%
Cigarette butts 2 to 4 butts in paper envelope 50%
Clothing Hats, baseball caps, underwear, bandana 45%
Razors Place in paper envelope 40%

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