DNA: The Hard Drive of the Future?

DNA Test Strands

DNA Test Strands

DNA – The Hard Drive of the Future?

Last week in Boston, a team of scientists presented findings to the American Chemical Society (ASC). The concept of storing large amounts of data in a small space, and having that vessel be preserved for thousands of years, seems challenging. Until you think about how the cells in our body, through our unique DNA code, is doing just that.

“A little after the discovery of the double helix architecture of DNA, people figured out that the coding language of nature is very similar to the binary language we use in computers,” says Robert Grass, Ph.D. of ETH Zurich. “on a hard drive, we use 0s and 1s to represent data, and in DNA, we have four nucleotides, A, C, T and G.”

The Swiss researchers reported they have developed a technique for storing text, images, and video for thousands of years, coded into DNA and imbedded in glass spheres. Their study suggests data could be stored for 2,000 years, much longer than the average hard drive or cd.

DNA has advantages to hard drives: size and durability. Today’s wallet-sized external hard dives can store terabytes of data, and may last 50 years. In theory, a teaspoon of DNA could store over 300,000 terabytes, and from research on fossils and archaeological finds, scientists have found DNA that has survived for hundreds of thousands of years.

Data stored today has the convenience of simple retrieval. Data on a strand of DNA does not—yet. Silica based storage used today has the benefit of being very cheap, where synthesizing DNA was about $12,400 in 2013 for each megabyte of data, but that is coming down quickly.

Right now the researchers see the biggest benefit of this type of storage in preserving large amounts of data and images, perhaps for future generations. This may include important government and cultural information, but a major application may in fact be the storage of data generated by scientific projects.

Grass says, if it were up to him, he would take snapshots of the ever-evolving Wikipedia, for example, to preserve its various iterations so they’re not lost forever as users make edits.

The parallel between the storage capacity of our DNA and the storage capacity of today’s technology is interesting. Our DNA is natural, as is the DNA in plants and every living organism. The race to store the exponentially increasing amount of data we generate now has a new finish line—a target. To develop technology that can match the already amazing storage device that each of us has developed in every living cell in our body—that of our DNA.

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Navigating DNA Testing in Immigration Cases

happy mother and daughter piggyback“DNA testing has become the gold standard for immigration cases based on genetic family relationships much as it has for other areas of law such as family or criminal justice.” This is the introduction to a new article (as titled above) on DNA testing in Immigration cases, published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA.

The article’s authors include Dr. Michael Baird, laboratory director of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), which provides AABB accredited DNA testing services for immigration and other types of cases. As a member of the AABB for more than 20 years, Dr. Baird has served as char of the Relationship Testing Standards Program Unit, and currently serves as a member of the Molecular Testing Standards Committee of the AABB.

The article focuses on the fact that DNA testing is currently used by government agencies to establish relationships for those seeking immigration, and that guidance and laws around the use of DNA testing has not evolved perhaps as fast as the science itself.

“DNA is not listed as primary or secondary evidence of a family relationship…the ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommended adding DNA testing as primary evidence of a family relationship,” and concluded that “Family reunification is a pillar of U.S. immigration policy. USCIS must be able to verify, and its customers must be able to establish, that the claimed family relationships that constitute the basis of eligibility for immigration benefits are legitimate.”

The article goes on to acknowledge that even though DNA testing is now common, and requires only a saliva swab rather than a blood sample, the guidance from USCIS and other agencies still leaves it as a last resort. Cases begin with paperwork—documents of evidence. It can take months to for the USCIS or DOS to process these supportive documents, and if in the end the adjudicating officer is not satisfied, he or she can “suggest DNA testing and direct applicants to a list of authorized laboratories to use.”

The overwhelming majority of immigration DNA tests are straightforward and provide definitive answers, in the form of establishing a biological relationship, or disproving such relationship. Dr. Baird and DDC perform hundreds of AABB accredited immigration DNA tests monthly.

In some cases, where close biological relationships exist (brothers, twins, cousins), it can be “very difficult to discern which one is the biological father because they may share many alleles. In families involving marriage amongst blood relatives (or “consanguineous” relationships), relatives may share an even greater number of alleles.” Alleles are the genetic markers used in DNA testing.

Further evidence of rare cases mentioned in the article are those of genetic mutations, mosaicism, and chimerism—a situation where a person has more than one complete genome in their body. These cases are very rare, and only a few labs in the U.S. are equipped to identify such cases.

For more on Immigration DNA testing, and how your testing can be expedited by the experts at DDC, call today for a free consultation.

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Grandparent DNA Test

What You Should Know About the Grandparent DNA Test

Sometimes establishing paternity is not as easy as it sounds. If the possible father is simply not available for testing, a simple “grandparentage” DNA test can be performed by a DNA testing lab with the experience in that type of analysis. The test will show whether or not is a child is related to the grandparents—the suspected father’s parents—and thereby help to establish the identity of their father (or mother, if that is what’s needed).

Reasons to Take a Grandparent DNA Test

Many grandparents initiate this test because they are concerned that they might not be the actual biological grandparents of child/children! They are concerned, and simply want to know the truth. Being a grandparent requires emotional and financial support for many years, and if there is a question about the paternity of a grandchild, the grandparents want to know for sure. There are other reasons why a DNA test may be necessary; there may be legal issues in which their parentage needs to be established.

The test is most accurate when there are two grandparents to test—both parents of the possible father. In the absence of one grandparent, the test can still be administered. However, the results may not be as conclusive as they need to be to establish paternity and or maternity.

Reasons to know paternity include:

  • Health concerns
  • Death of potential father
  • Custody issues
  • Heritage and inheritance concerns
  • Questionable paternity of child

The Test Can Help to Protect Grandparent Rights

As a paternal grandparent, you really don’t know whether your grandkids are truly yours. Although you love and cherish each child, nothing can replace the reassurance you get from knowing for sure if those children are biologically related to you or not. Fortunately, you now have the option to request a grandparentage DNA test to learn the facts.

Even though it is within your right to request a DNA test, there may be some reasons why the child’s mother refuses to allow it. You can petition the courts for the test to be administered. The test can be administered for private or legal purposes, and is quick, easy and painless and only takes a few minutes to collect the DNA from each person.

Contact us to make arrangements for a grandparentage DNA test today. A kind, experienced representative from DDC will be happy to explain the details with a simple phone call.

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Avoiding Delays in Immigration: Accredited DNA Relationship Testing

Avoiding Delays in the Immigration Process

Immigration is a long, challenging, yet critical endeavor for those in the process. Choosing the right partners to provide DNA Relationship Testing can help you avoid delays in the Immigration process.

Immigration has been a hot topic around the U.S. for a while now. Many people feel strongly in favor of stricter immigration laws. In spite of many laws being passed in an effort to make the process simpler and more streamlined, it is still difficult for some people to get the approval they are seeking without jumping through some challenging hoops.

For example, in order to stay for an extended period of time in the U.S., visitors from a foreign country are generally required to have a visa. One way that you may qualify for a visa is if you can prove your family relationship to a U.S. citizen that you are visiting through reliable DNA testing. When you are getting DNA testing for immigration, it is important to choose an accredited laboratory to perform the test.

Why Does Accreditation Matter?

The American Association of Blood Blanks (AABB) has established strict standards and protocols regarding DNA testing. When laboratories meet and exceed these standards and protocols, they may be granted AABB accreditation. Because immigration is such a critical issue and there are so many laws regarding who can visit and for how long, having your DNA test processed by an accredited laboratory is the best way to have your results accepted during your application process. Let along that many government offices REQUIRE AABB accreditation for test results. Test results from a lab that is not accredited may be thrown out, making the lengthy process take even longer as you seek another laboratory to perform another test.

Be Selective Regarding Your Testing Laboratory

When ordering a test to establish a family relationship, it’s okay to be selective. There is a list of AABB accredited laboratories across the U.S. that makes it easier to find the nearest accredited laboratory to perform your test. DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) is one such accredited lab in many different states. BUT BE AWARE: being AABB accredited does not mean that a lab is equipped to perform the many tasks that go along with Immigration testing—the paperwork, forms, processes, etc.

Get It Done Right the First Time

It’s easier to avoid mishaps and delays in the immigration process when you have your DNA relationship test performed the right way the first time. Consult the AABB accredited list of laboratories to find the laboratory near you, or call DDC for more information. DDC representatives are EXPERTS in Immigration DNA testing—with one call, they can guide you through the entire process.

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Why Fathers Should Consider a Legal DNA Paternity Test

Having a child means a whole new world of responsibility that some people may not be ready for. Ready or not, when your baby is born into the world, you are a parent. There is often little doubt as to who the father of a child is when a couple is married. Most times, in the eyes of the law, when a child is born by married parents, it’s assumed the child is biologically related to the parents. But if a divorce should happen, or if the couple was never married in the first place, and child support is on the table, fathers should give serious consideration to a legal DNA paternity test from a reliable laboratory, such as DNA Diagnostics Center, to validate their paternity.

Separations and Divorces Are Tough for Many Reasons

Even an amicable divorce is tough emotionally for all of the parties involved. Depending on the details of your case, the fidelity of your spouse may be in question, which could also question the true paternity of your children. Many fathers have little doubt in their minds, but studies show that up to 30% of fathers have some doubt. You want to ensure that your children are given the best care possible throughout a separation, as it is just as hard on them—or harder, in some cases—as it is on you and your spouse.

Avoiding False Child Support

 One of the most important reasons for a legal DNA test is that fathers do not have to pay child support for children that are not theirs. If there is any reason to suspect a child is not yours, especially in cases where the couple was not married and had multiple sexual partners, then a legal DNA test can help to prove or disprove paternity. And the proof is then presented in a report that is admissible in court. However, you need to make sure that a reliable, AABB accredited, court-trusted laboratory, such as DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), performs the test. This way, the results can actually be used in your legal case. The difference is in the way the DNA is collected, with all the DNA being collected by a third party, after all ID has been verified. It may sound difficult, but experts like DDC make if very simple.

 Husbands and Fathers Deserve to Be Protected, Too

 Some fathers choose to continue to care for children they have helped to raise regardless of paternity test results. However, husbands and fathers deserve to be protected from fraudulent child support claims. DDC can provide legal DNA paternity tests to help with your child support case. A simple phone call is all it takes, as they help hundreds of parents get help every day.

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Genetic Test to Find History of Viruses

Imagine knowing the viruses you’ve been exposed to in the last 5 years! The answer may be here in the form of genetic testing—in a very clever way.

Scientists have developed a DNA-based blood test called VirScan that can look back into a person’s exposure to viruses by looking for the anti-bodies that the human body creates to fight the viruses. In his article in the Washington Post, Brady Dennis reports that the human immune system can produce antibodies for decades after it encounters a virus.

“VirScan detects those antibodies and uses them as a window in time to create a blueprint of nearly every virus an individual has encountered. It’s a dramatic alternative to existing diagnostic tools, which test only for a single suspected virus.”

The biggest upside for technology could be the early detection of conditions, such as hepatitis C, and eventually could help explain what triggers certain autoimmune diseases and cancers.
The VirScan analysis can currently be done for about $25, and some think it could become a routine part of a doctor visit, including Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia, who was not involved in developing VirScan. “I think this is really going to be helpful. It’s very cool.”

For the full article, click here.

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Blessed by Science: Response to a Genetic Disease

embryo illustrationAs much of the world struggles with the moral dilemmas that arise from the answers that genetic testing can and does provide, there are pockets of society that have found ways to embrace technology for the very basic reason of ensuring the longevity of their communities. Ironically, it is some of the very oldest of the communities that depend on the latest in science to help ensure the future of their ancient ways.

One such group is the Native Americans here in North America. For generations they have used blood quantum laws and/or the Dawes Rolls to help with decisions about enrollment. With the wealth brought to Native American Nations from gambling, enrollment soared, and many

looked for ways to ensure accurate monitoring of membership with DNA testing. The challenges were many, including the mistrust of the new technology by the elders, who relied on internal history and judgment.

Another group to recently embrace the technology of DNA testing has been the Jewish Community, in an effort to reduce the prevalence of Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic disorder that affects the nervous system. Alexandra Ossola has written about the disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish community, and the use of DNA technology and screening to greatly reduce the prevalence of Tay-Sachs in New York City Hasidic communities.

Yosef Eckstein and his wife had four children born with the disease, which is typically found in one of every 3,600 children born to Ashkenazi Jewish families. He learned that there were ongoing efforts in the larger Jewish community to reduce the prevalence of the disease by doing genetic tests for couples before they had a child, but it hadn’t yet caught on in the Hasidic community. Eckstein developed a genetic screening program, calling it Dor Yeshorim, the righteous generation.

Tay-Sachs is cause by recessive genes, so parents who carry the gene have no indication until they have a baby with the disease – or if they get a genetic test. The program Eckstein devised was a way to screen people for the recessive gene, while keeping the results anonymous. Young adults of high school age would have their blood tested, and receive an ID number. Later, when marriage was proposed, the families would call the Dor Yeshorim hotline, and provide the 2 ID numbers. If one of the two was a potential carrier, it was a good match; if both were carriers, the operator would forewarn the caller that it was a bad match.

The program is not without controversy, as Eckstein has been accused of practicing eugenics or “playing God.” Proponents have wondered if such a program would work in the larger US populations, with genetic screenings such as BRCA breast cancer genes.

What do you think? Should those set for marriage go their separate ways if they are carriers of a genetic disease with a 1 in 3,600 chance of appearing in a child? Or is the community smart to minimize the risk of inherited disease by discouraging marriages?

For more information and the full article, click here.


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Child Support and Paternity Testing

Child support can be a difficult subject for couples going through a separation or divorce. Some would argue it doesn’t matter whether or not the couple was ever married, when it comes to the care of child; what is most important is that both people involved in the creation of a life share in the quality care and raising of the child into adulthood. When the biological father is not known for certain, DNA testing may be necessary before a child support order can be issued.

When Is Paternity Testing Needed?

Genetic testing may be necessary if there is any doubt as to who is the biological father of a child, and when the mother wishes for court-ordered child support. A father may be able to contest child support if he is unsure about his relationship with the child. DNA paternity testing is offered for both legal reasons and for ‘peace of mind’ reasons, and it’s important to know what you will need the results for when purchasing a test. Other reasons for testing include:

  • Adding father’s name to birth certificate
  • Protecting parental rights
  • Access to family medical information
  • Ensuring the right to a father-child relationship

Who Can Perform the Test?

There are many institutions that provide DNA testing services. A court may issue strict requirements about where a mother or father may go for testing, which in the case of child support is usually the state contracted laboratory. If you are pursuing testing on your own, which is very popular, you want to choose a reliable testing center with affordable options. You can usually trust laboratories that are accredited by the AABB, and that are members of the BBB with a high rating (A+)

You Can Get Peace of Mind Today

You don’t have to wait for a court order to pursue genetic testing. You can choose options and go through a lab that provides services direct to the public. You will want to choose the services wisely if you ever plan on using DNA testing results in court for a child support order. Whether or not you are looking for help in the raising of your child, a paternity test can do a lot for your peace of mind and the peace of mind of your child’s father. Keep in mind that you may want to contact the testing service directly to learn more about the process or get a test under way.

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DNA Testing: Forensic Paternity Test

DNA or Prenatal testing during pregnancyYou’ve seen this plot on TV shows like Law & Order—a woman mysteriously dies, foul play is suspected, and the autopsy finds the woman is pregnant! A DNA test of the fetus is ordered to find out who the father is, and the results usually help solve the mystery and the crime.

There are many similarities between TV cases and a real life murder mystery playing out in Austin, Texas. The difference here is, no autopsy was needed to reveal the twist of an unknown pregnancy–Samantha Dean was seven months pregnant when she was found dead in her car, shot in the head multiple times.

Ms. Dean was a police department Victim Services Advocate, and had been seeing an Austin police officer socially. He has been placed on restricted duty in connection to the investigation.

DNA testing is the key to solving the mystery of who fathered the baby Ms. Dean was carrying. Both Dr. Michael Baird of DDC and Dr. Vincent Di Maio of Bexar County were interviewed by KXAN of Austin, and each agree—DNA results will be very accurate, and “virtually foolproof.”

Here is where the next steps differ greatly from TV shows, where the DNA results seemingly come back the next day. In a case like this, the DNA will most likely be sent through the county or state DNA lab, and the samples will get in line behind dozens, or hundreds, of other cases. Dr. Vincent Di Maio said the tests could take a few weeks to produce results, if there is a backlog in testing. What can happen to a case while a few weeks goes by? Where is the swift justice for the grieving family?

Dr. Michael Baird of DDC, when interviewed, said, “The DNA tests that we do [take] a matter of days. Our typical turnaround time is two days at DDC.” Private labs often can produce test results much faster than county labs. Counties invest in DNA labs for the right reasons, but when the backlogs create long wait times, law enforcement should have a back-up plan to contract with private labs to avoid lengthy delays and relieve time pressure, to promote timely justice for those in need of answers.

For more information on DDC’s Forensic DNA Testing, click here.

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11 Fathers of Asia: Does DNA Testing Prove 800 Million Men are Descendants of 11?

Researchers suggest Genghis Khan and ten other powerful Asian rulers dating back to 1300 BC share distinctive sequences in Y-chromosomes—part of our DNA that only men carry—with over 800 million men living today. Perhaps as many as 16 million men are directly tied to Genghis Khan himself.

Genghis Khan

Published in the European Journal of Human Genetics and highlighted in a Daily Mail feature on January 28, 2015, the study links prolific leaders in Asia to men living today, by studying the distribution of gene sequences in today’s populations. Researchers analyzed the Y chromosomes of 5,231 men from 127 different populations around Asia. They found 11 common Y chromosome sequences that cropped up repeatedly in the genomes they examined; 37.8 percent of the men tested belonged to one of these 11 lineages.

Geneticists have found lineage clusters, but cannot clearly identify the original individuals unless their remains are found and tested. They believe the only men with the opportunity to father as many children needed to create these large clusters would have been warlords of Mongolia like Genghis Khan 800 years ago.

Writing in the European of Human Genetics, professor Mark Jobling wrote “High reproductive success if often associated with high social status, ‘prestigious’ men having higher intramarital fertility, lower offspring mortality and access to a greater number of wives.”

“If the tomb of leaders like Genghis Khan are ever unearthed, it could result in the ultimate paternity test for millions of men around the world” writes Richard Gray of the Daily Mail. “The only way to know for sure who these 11 founding fathers were will be to find their remains and extract DNA.”

For more information on lineage testing, and paternity testing, contact DNA Diagnostics Center.

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