DNA Testing After Death: Can You Get DNA from Ashes?

Jul 1, 2023 | DNA science, Relationship

Modern advances in DNA testing have revolutionized the way forensic scientists investigate crimes, identify missing persons, establish paternity and other relationships, and unravel genetic mysteries. However, even with state-of-the-art technology, using cremated remains for paternity testing, relationship testing, and post-mortem DNA testing can prove to be a challenge. 

Here, we will explore DNA testing after death and shed light on whether it is possible to extract DNA from ashes.

Understanding DNA

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a self-replicating material that carries the genetic instructions for all living organisms’ development, functioning, and reproduction. DNA is present in the nucleus of every cell and holds the key to the unique biological identity of all species.


Can You Extract DNA from Cremated Remains?

The cremation process destroys most of the DNA in the body, but some may be preserved inside bones and teeth. In some instances, the remaining DNA can be extracted from ashes after cremation, but this process can be complicated, and the chances of success are low. 


Factors Affecting DNA Extraction from Ashes

Several aspects of the cremation process can hinder the success of DNA extraction from ashes, including:


During cremation, temperatures can reach as high as 1,400 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (760 to 982 degrees Celsius). DNA is highly susceptible to damage and even complete destruction at extreme temperatures. 

Duration of Cremation

The duration of the cremation process also plays a crucial role in whether or not DNA extraction is possible. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures further diminishes the chances of recovering intact DNA from cremation ashes.


Cremated remains are typically returned to a loved one as powdery ash, but some fragments of bone or teeth may remain intact. These fragments contain a higher concentration of DNA compared to the surrounding ash. Successful DNA extraction is more likely when more of these fragments are present.


A significant challenge that comes with utilizing ashes as a DNA testing sample is contamination. Ashes can be contaminated with external DNA sources and foreign DNA present on the body during cremation. This contamination can lead to potential mix-ups or false results during analysis.


Other DNA Sample Options 

In cases where extracting DNA directly from ashes proves to be difficult or impossible, there are a variety of other samples that a post-mortem DNA testing provider can use. 

Preserved biological samples taken before death, such as blood and buccal swabs, are most likely to produce viable results. Depending on your testing provider, other sample options for post-mortem DNA testing include nail clippings, used ear swabs, unwashed clothing, dried blood on fabric, and more. 

Relationship Testing

Another option to consider is utilizing relationship testing with biological relatives of your loved one. For example, imagine a woman only has the cremated remains of her spouse and is in need of a paternity test. Rather than using a less reliable sample like ashes, she could instead have a relationship test conducted with her spouse’s parent or sibling or test two of her children to determine if they share the same father. 

A Trusted Relationship Testing Provider

When you utilize a reputable and accredited testing provider like DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), you can rest assured that your results can be trusted. DDC is the world leader in paternity testing, performing more paternity, relationship, and NIPP tests than any other lab. (DDC’s) relationship testing options include:

Our DNA experts are happy to provide a free consultation and help you understand all of your testing options for your unique situation, including pricing.


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