How to do an AncestryDNA test WITHOUT spit

I haven’t written my reviews on the three big ancestral DNA companies, but I plan to soon. When I do, it will become glaringly obvious how obsessed I am with genetic genealogy. The science behind it is amazing, and in many cases (like mine) it can be completely life-altering. There’s one issue though; two of the three companies require saliva samples and not a cheek swab. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can be when you’re trying to test older generations as the elderly often have difficulty trying to produce enough saliva. Sometimes certain medications can also affect spit production. So, while a teaspoon of spit might not seem like a lot, many people have had to forgo testing at their company of choice due to difficulty producing saliva. On individuals who are searching for biological family using genetic genealogy, this is a huge blow and can dramatically reduce the odds of finding good matches. Fortunately, this hasn’t really been an issue for me, but I discovered the solution to this problem doing a “just for fun” test.

I originally developed an interest in genetic genealogy for the purpose of identifying my biological father. It quickly spiralled out of control into a full-blown hobby/addiction. I manage a couple dozen DNA tests for friends and relatives. I tested my daughter in 2015 and when Ancestry had their Black Friday sale (Hello, $69 DNA tests!) I decided to test my remaining children. The 7 year old did fine. The 5 year old did fine. The 3 year old, however, did not. She is strong-willed and refused to let me hold the vial. Problem was, she would spit, then drink it, spit, then drink it, over and over. And if I tried to hold it, she would refuse to even attempt to spit and throw herself on the floor in a tantrum. I was getting stressed once we hit two hours of attempting to collect a sample from a bratty toddler and I gave up.

The spit-drinker and I.

After complaining about it to my husband, he asked me “Well, is there a way to do it without her spitting into the tube?” I tried explaining that the topic comes up frequently on my DNA group, but as far as I am aware, no one has figured out how yet. He suggested I figure it out.

Challenge accepted.

I did a lot of research and learned that saliva is approximately 99% water and the remainder is electrolytes, enzymes and other naturally occurring substances. I kept researching how to make artificial saliva and after a few days, I was pretty sure I had a theory figured out. My biggest concern was that I would accidentally create a hypotonic solution and the cells would burst, but at this point, what would it hurt to at least try? If it fails, it fails. If it succeeds, I could help a lot of people in much more serious predicaments than a strong willed toddler. If my ridiculous amount of biology courses prepared me for anything, it was for this moment. I took a leap of faith, created an artificial saliva solution and guess what? It worked. Perfectly. I was on pins and needles the entire time her sample was processing, but as soon as those results came in, I knew I had figured it out! I was shocked. I was sooooo sure the test would fail. So here’s the information YOU will need in order to re-create my artificial saliva test kit.

If you have the time, PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO. It can be so much easier to understand with the visual/audio explanation versus the written! Please watch the video before asking me questions! I know it’s long, but bear with me!

SUPPLIES:

You will not need a lot of supplies, but you will need more than if you were to just spit in the tube.

1: Create Your Artificial Saliva Solution

  1. Pour a fair amount of distilled water into one of the clean cups.
  2. Spray a small amount of saline into another clean cup until it pools in the bottom.
  3. Measure 99ml of distilled water into the third clean cup.
  4. Measure 1ml of saline into the third clean cup.
  5. Discard the two unmixed cups.

2: Take Your Sample

Now the fun part! You will need to obtain your sample.

  1. Measure approximately 5ml of your artificial saliva and fill the test tube 2-3mm ABOVE the fill line. As you remove swabs, liquid will be removed from the container, so overfilling it very slightly will not be a problem.
  2. Swab the GUM brushes on the cheeks 10-20 seconds, then place tip down into the DNA tube to soak for another 10-20 seconds. You may “stir” them in the tube as well. Remove the swab carefully allowing the liquid to drip off of it and into the vial, and scraping the swab along the edge to ensure as much is left behind as possible.
  3. Repeat above until all 8 swabs have been used. While swabbing, it is best to leave the previous swab in the solution to soak.

Note: If the mouth is especially dry, dip the swab tip in your excess solution before swabbing.

3: Proceed as normal

At this point, your saliva sample should look identical to actual saliva. It’s actually pretty cool. If you tilt and swish it near a light source, you should be able to see debris from the cheeks and it should be thick and slimy just like actual spit. Screw on the cap with the stabilizing liquid, place it in the pouch, seal the box and ship it in!

 

Conclusion:

This method was very successful for me. I used it to obtain DNA results for my bratty strong willed 3 year old who kept drinking her spit, despite my pleas and attempts at bribery. Her results, despite my doubts about my methods, came back perfectly and took the normal amount of processing time when compared to other kits obtained through normal spitting.

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9 thoughts on “How to do an AncestryDNA test WITHOUT spit

  1. Lynda Johnson says:

    Wish I had seen this a few months ago. My 90 year old mother’s Ancestry samples failed 5 times. I passed her kit on to another family member and set mom up at FTDNA, It would really help to have all family kits on one site. May try this.

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  2. Samantha says:

    Maybe get another kit and register it with her nickname and try again? It can’t hurt to try. I bet you could get it that way!!!!

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  3. Virginia Burns says:

    Amazing! Thank you so much for solving this problem for the rest of us.

    Do you think this would still work if there was a delay between swabbing and transferring to the solution if the swabs were placed in test tubes and capped? I plan on trying this with myself as the tester for a 23andMe kit to see if it works for them as well, but since they’re quite a bit more expensive than Ancestry I don’t want to go so far as testing a delay with that one unless I’m relatively sure it will work.

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  4. Samantha says:

    I honestly do not know. If I were you, I would make sure to swab and cap with the stabilizing solution immediately!

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  5. James S says:

    Thank you so much for this! I tried this on my (very) elderly grandmother after we had given up hope on getting her into either Ancestry or 23andMe. Fingers crossed we have as much success as you did. There was some pretty visible debris in the saliva solution, but not to the same extent as yours pictured. And it seemed to react strangely when I released the preserving fluid: lots of fizzy bubbles. Maybe a product of me being a little overzealous with the saline? Keeping hope and thank you again!

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  6. Samantha says:

    Mine got lots of bubbles too!!!

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  7. Virginia Burns says:

    I wanted to let you know that my test using this method with a 23andMe kit worked flawlessly. I used myself as the guinea pig and results came back identical twin.

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  8. Samantha says:

    You rock, Viriginia!

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