In This Article
In This Article
DNA testing is a growing field. As its popularity rises, more information becomes available about the topic.
If you are wondering how DNA tests work or are considering getting one done, you can read this complete guide on DNA testing.
We’ll talk about the basics of DNA testing and how the process works. This guide will run through DNA testing 101.
Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a long molecule with unique genetic codes. It has instructions essential for development and functions.1
For instance, it contains different codes for making all the proteins in your body.
All cells in your body have DNA—mostly found in the nucleus. They’re called nuclear DNA. However, your cells’ mitochondria also hold bits of DNA. It’s called mitochondrial DNA.
The DNA molecule is encased into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Chromosomes carry DNA in your cells. You have 23 pairs of chromosomes, or 46 total, in each cell.
Half of your chromosomes come from your mother's genetic material. The remaining half is from your father.
Nucleotide is one of the building blocks of DNA. Two long polynucleotide chains make up a DNA molecule. Overall, DNA has four nucleotides.
Each nucleotide has three parts: a nitrogen base, a molecule of sugar, and phosphate groups.
The sugar molecule found in DNA is called deoxyribose. It alternates with the phosphate group to form the backbone of the DNA strand.2
Each deoxyribose is attached to a nitrogen base. DNA has four different nitrogen bases:
DNA has two strands that form a 3D shape called a double helix. On a closer look, the strands look like spiral, twisting ladders. The base pairs are the rung, while the sugar-phosphate backbone is the legs.
DNA can make copies of itself. Each DNA strand in the double helix becomes a pattern for replicating the bases' sequence.
Sometimes, errors happen in DNA replication while making new cells or cell division. It can lead to genetic mutations.3
Genetic mutations are any changes that occur to your DNA sequence. They can help you better adapt to your environment or cause genetic conditions like cancer.4
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Depending on the information you're after, you can take a DNA test at a laboratory, in your doctor’s office, or at home.
A medical provider may arrange the details of your DNA testing. You may also opt for an at-home test kit.
The instructions for at-home DNA test kits may vary for each provider. But generally, this is how the procedure goes.
The turnaround time of your DNA results will also depend on your chosen provider. But typically, results are available within three to five days.
Once you’ve decided on DNA testing, your healthcare provider may set up testing for you. Genetic testing is often included in a genetic consultation.
Professional DNA tests analyze the same information in your DNA sample. In addition, they provide results that are admissible in court.
You can use them to resolve legal issues, like paternity, child support disputes, and so on.
You must go to a doctor’s office, lab, or medical setting for a professional DNA test. The medical experts will collect any of the following acceptable sources of DNA samples:
The person who collected your sample will send them to a lab. Lab technicians look for specific chromosome, DNA, or protein changes or patterns and will note down any that are out of the ordinary.
The lab sends written test results report to your doctor or genetic counselor. They can also send it to you directly if you request.
Genetic testing is relatively safe. It’s beneficial for anyone who is:
But before getting a DNA test, it's essential to know the pros and cons of genetic testing and what the test could show.
Talk to a genetic consultant for proper guidance in DNA testing, especially for health purposes.
If you’re expecting or a parent of a young child, your doctor may recommend genetic testing based on your family history.
Gene mutations can cause a wide range of health problems, especially in children, such as:
If your child has symptoms of a condition linked to a genetic disorder, your child's doctor may suggest genetic testing. They need to confirm a diagnosis to start a treatment plan.
DNA testing gives insightful information about your health. You can take them at home or with the help of a medical professional. Anyone can take a DNA test and people predisposed to genetic conditions will greatly benefit from it.
Your test results will give you information based on your chosen testing type. For example, most at-home test kits assess your DNA for genetic ancestry.
Other information you can learn from a DNA test include:
Most DNA test results are accurate. DNA testing labs follow CLIA regulations—the standard quality framework across clinical laboratory testing. CLIA ensures that test results remain accurate and reliable.5
Once you’ve received your test results, you can do a few things with them:
Your DNA is your blueprint, and you should do everything you can to protect it. Almost every provider lets you download your raw DNA data. Once you’ve done this, consider deleting it from their system.
Your DNA test results can be used to confirm suspected relations or explore your family tree. It’s rare, but you could find long-lost relatives or notable ancestors as a result of DNA testing.
At-home testing is not meant to be diagnostic. If you learn about a health concern, don’t panic.
Share your results with your doctor and discuss your options. It would help if you didn’t use at-home DNA testing alone to make important health decisions.
It’s also important to remember that DNA tests like 23andMe don’t consider your lifestyle. You might already be managing your genetic risk for certain diseases, so there’s no need to worry.
View your DNA test results as a starting point for improving things, but don’t see it as the end-all-be-all for informing your decisions.
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