Do Nails Have DNA: How Does a Nail DNA Test Work?

Aug 7, 2023 | DNA science, Relationship

Do Nails Have DNA How Does a Nail DNA Test Work

Do you need to confirm a relationship? Curious to know if you can test DNA from nail clippings? In this blog, we will walk you through how nail DNA testing works, the advantages, the drawbacks, and more.


Can You Do a DNA Test with Nails?

Nail clippings are something that most people discard without a second thought. But they can actually be used for a variety of different testing purposes. 

Fingernails and toenails are made up of a protein called keratin and contain DNA from the skin cells that grow around the nail bed. These cells are constantly shedding, and they can be collected by simply clipping the nails or scraping them with a sterile tool. 

The DNA from the nail clippings can then be extracted and analyzed in a laboratory. Technicians can use the DNA found in nail clippings for a variety of tests, including:


How Does DNA Testing with Nails Work?

The DNA in nails is not as concentrated as the DNA in other bodily fluids, such as blood or saliva. However, obtaining a DNA profile from nail clippings is still possible in many cases, especially if a large enough sample is collected. 

A sample of multiple nail clippings (5-10) is necessary to achieve the best results from a nail DNA test. The more clippings available, the higher the likelihood of viability. After the testing provider receives the nail clipping sample, they will first test it for viability, ensuring that enough DNA can be extracted for meaningful results.

Usually, the DNA within the nail clippings sample will be amplified or copied so that there is enough of it to be analyzed. The amplification of DNA is achieved through a process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR works by repeatedly heating and cooling DNA. When DNA is heated, it separates into two single strands. Next, an enzyme called “Taq polymerase” is introduced to the sample. This enzyme synthesizes and uses the original DNA strands to “build” two new strands of DNA. Technicians can repeat this process many times, producing millions of copies of the original DNA. 

With paternity testing, a laboratory technician would compare the extracted DNA from the alleged father’s nails to the child’s DNA. They would analyze the two DNA samples and look for similarities. From there, they would determine a probability of paternity based on either the presence or absence of similarities in the DNA. 


The Advantages of a Nail DNA Test

Using nails as a sample for DNA testing is a method that has been around for many years. Below are some of the advantages that a nail DNA test provides.


Nail DNA Testing is Reliable

Nail DNA testing is a reliable identification method and has been used for many years across a plethora of industries. In some scenarios, nail DNA testing can even be used to legally establish paternity.


Using a Nail Sample is Sometimes Less Expensive

Nail DNA testing is occasionally more affordable than other types, such as blood testing. Certain DNA testing providers have more extensive fees for handling biohazards like blood. 


Discrete Sample Collection is Possible

Discrete sample collection using nail clippings can be possible, though it is vital to remember that multiple nail clippings must be submitted. Perhaps you’re a mother, and you are questioning who the biological father of your child is, but you do not want to alarm the potential father. In this scenario, using the alleged father’s nail clippings as a sample for a paternity test could be an option for you. 


The Drawbacks of a Nail DNA Test

Although nails do contain DNA and are generally considered to be reliable and accurate, there are some limitations, including:


Certain Environmental Factors Can Hinder Results

Nail clippings can be contaminated with dirt, nail polish, or other debris. This contamination can interfere with the DNA extraction process and make obtaining a successful DNA profile challenging.


Best Practice Requires Multiple Nail Clippings

In addition to the nail sample needing to be clean and free of debris, the sample should be comprised of more than one clipping; 5-10 clippings are the industry standard for an acceptable sample size. 


A DNA Test Is Only as Good as the Testing Provider

The accuracy of a nail DNA test can be affected by several factors, including the testing provider. If the laboratory that performs the test lacks necessary accreditations or does not have a good reputation, it is more likely to produce inaccurate or untrustworthy results.


Other DNA Test Sample Options

Overall, nail DNA tests are a valuable tool for identifying individuals. However, it is essential to be aware of the limitations of this type of testing. Many other types of samples can be used for DNA testing, including:

  • A Buccal Swab (Cheek Swab)
  • Blood/Dried Blood Stains
  • Semen
  • Diabetic Test Strips
  • A Toothbrush
  • Ear Swabs
  • Shaving Razor Blades
  • Cigarette Butts
  • Chewing Gum (Sugar-Free Is Preferred)
  • And More!

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. Give us a call at 800-929-0847. 

It is crucial to note that DNA samples collected at home only apply for peace-of-mind testing. In order for a DNA test to be admissible in court, a specific chain of custody needs to be followed. Samples must be collected in an approved facility where individuals provide identification before submitting samples. This chain of custody ensures that DNA samples cannot be tampered with and that those who provide them are who they claim to be.


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