Recently, news on the DNA front has revolved around the U.S. Court of Appeals’ approval of a patent involving genes that are used to evaluate a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. It is common knowledge that we inherit genes from our parents, and you may be wondering if the genes being discussed in the news are the same genes that we look at in a paternity test.

A paternity test examines DNA markers, instead of genes. DNA markers are distinct patterns of DNA that are inherited in the same way that genes are inherited—a child inherits one copy from the mother and one copy from the father.

As you may know, genes are portions of DNA that can determine a person’s physical characteristics, such as eye color. In contrast, the DNA markers we test do not contain this type of information, and so we can’t tell from a paternity test whether you have blue eyes or are predisposed to a certain disease. A paternity test only provides a series of DNA markers that serve as a person’s “genetic ID” without pointing to a specific physical, observable trait.

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