Using nothing more than a swab of saliva and the internet, a 15-year-old boy has tracked down his anonymous sperm donor father, according to details released today.
By sending a swab taken from the inside of his cheek for genetic testing, the teenager was able to use genealogy websites to trace his father by looking for men with a matching Y-chromosome, which is passed down the male line.
The genetic detective work has major implications for men who have donated sperm under condition of anonymity and expect their identity to remain secret for ever. The news is expected to lead to a surge of other donor children attempting to find their genetic fathers, according to experts. But the implications stretch beyond the ethical issues surrounding children hunting for their genetic fathers. The boy's ability to use publicly available genetic tests and internet searches suggests that police forces could do the same and obtain the surnames of potential suspects with DNA samples gathered from crime scenes.
The boy took the saliva sample late last year and sent it off to an online genealogy DNA-testing service called Family Tree DNA. For a fee of $289 (£163) the boy had his genetic code available for other members of the site to search.
Although the boy's genetic father had never supplied his DNA to the site, after nine months the boy was contacted by two men who were on the database and whose Y-chromosome matched his own. The two men did not know each other, but shared a surname, albeit with a different spelling, and the genetic similarity of their Y-chromosomes suggested there was a 50% chance that the two men and the boy shared the same father, grandfather or great-grandfather.
The surname was the clue the boy needed. His mother had been told his father's date and place of birth and his degree subject, even though his name remained a secret. With the growing pile of information, the boy turned to another internet service, Omnitrace.com, which he used to buy information on everyone born in the same place and on the same date as his father.
Only one man had the surname he had obtained earlier, and within 10 days the teenager had made contact, amicably, with his genetic father, according to today's issue of New Scientist magazine.
"This is the first time that I know of it being done," said Bryan Sykes, a geneticist at Oxford University and chairman of OxfordAncestors.com, a company that offers genetic testing for ancestry research. "Fifteen years ago, when the father donated his sperm, nobody in the world could have known this would be possible." The news is likely to be unsettling for men who have donated sperm in countries where anonymity is still commonplace, such as the US.
"Sperm banks are recruiting donors and promising them anonymity. I don't think that's a valid promise any more," said Wendy Kramer, founder of Donor Sibling Registry a web-based service that matches donor children with their siblings. Dr Sykes added that his own company was now considering allowing its own databases to be used by children seeking their donor fathers.
By Ian Sample posted 4 November 05
Bone marrow donors risk DNA identity mix-up
IT SOUNDS like an open-and-shut case: a clear DNA match is made between semen from a serious sexual assault and a blood sample from a known criminal. Yet in a recent case from Alaska, the criminal in question was in jail when the assault took place. And forensic scientists had already matched the crime sample to the DNA profile of another person who was their prime suspect. It was only after careful detective work that the mystery was solved: the jailed man had received bone marrow from the suspect many years earlier.
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THE BUTLER DIDN'T DO IT!
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Database clears up crimes?
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A Question of Innocence
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ARE YOU INNOCENT?
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Is the Westminster System flawed?
Most people would say Lady Di got the boot and NSW has so much trouble getting the Innocence Panel moving. I said hey, what's going on!
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Prisoners can prove innocence for $20
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DNA yours or mine?
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DNA Evidence of Bipartisanship
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Govt, police 'let off the hook' Haneef inquiry
8 years ago