What Is a DNA Swab?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2020
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Deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, is the nucleic acid found within all living organism that contains the genetic instructions for life. Human beings share over 99.9% of the same DNA; however, the small amount that differs among humans is what makes us unique. The subtle differences in each person's DNA profile are also used to determine familial relationships and basic genealogy. In order to test a person's DNA, a DNA swab must be taken for study or comparison. A DNA swab is a simple scraping taken from the inside of the cheek on what looks like an over-sized cotton swab.

Although the concept behind DNA has been known to scientists for decades, a useful way to test and study it was not developed until the 1980s. Since then, DNA testing has become the accepted method for determining paternity, for tracing genealogical roots, and even for convicting, or exonerating, people accused of a crime. The first step in the use of DNA testing is to secure a sample of the subject's DNA through the use of a DNA swab.


A DNA swab, or buccal swab, is the easiest and most commonly used method for obtaining a sample of an individual's DNA. It is quick, painless, and efficient. A long swab, which resembles a long Q-tipĀ®, is inserted into the mouth and then scraped across the cheek. This simple process manages to gather enough DNA to perform extensive DNA testing, in most cases. The DNA obtained through a DNA swab may usually be stored for an long period of time in the event additional testing needs to be done at a later date.

Once a DNA swab has been obtained, it may be used to perform comparison tests for the purpose of establishing paternity or for evidential purposes. In addition, a DNA swab may be used for a general DNA genealogical study to determine the heritage of the individual. DNA testing is generally believed to be extremely accurate when performed properly.

When used to establish paternity, a DNA swab is taken from both the child and the putative, or alleged, father and then compared against each other. Most courts within the United States consider a positive DNA test match to be sufficient evidence to legally establish paternity of a child. DNA testing is also used to exclude potential suspects in a crime, or to convict a defendant at trial. In recent years, DNA testing has also been used to exonerate convicted criminals who were wrongly convicted by using current DNA technology that was unavailable at the time of conviction. People may also request a voluntary DNA profile which can give an individual information regarding what percentage of his or her heritage is of Caucasian, African, Hispanic, or Asian descent, for example.


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