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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How to do an AncestryDNA test WITHOUT spit, 9.7 out of 10 based on 6 ratings

44 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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  9. Lori says:

    Thanks very much for this. My mom was unable to spit and I tossed the kit. She’s been gone for 4 years now. I saved her toothbrush and hairbrush in a baggie hoping I might be able to salvage her DNA. I’m wondering if I could soak her toothbrush in your substituted saliva solution. Any thoughts on technique or other ideas?

    Also, to the person who tested on 2 different companies. Download your raw DNA file and upload to gedmatch.com which accepts DNA from all the big testing companies. They have terrific tools and a chromosome browser which permits you to triangulate matches. It also expands your potential matches way beyond Ancestry. Best of both worlds.

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  10. RH says:

    Have some questions.

    how many strokes did you do with each brush ? Did you do one brush in one location ? How many brushes did you use for one DNA kit ?

    I am interested in knowing what the preservative is. Any ideas ? Here is my reason. I have tubes that I can send in the mail. And I could send brushes. But I think the DNA might be better if it was preserved. I see many people talk about sending kits and they are not used. I want to send generic stuff and if they do not send back to me then no problem.

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  11. Carolyn Lowe says:

    Can you NOT use the cheek swab (with the Q-tips) on the 23andMe and Ancestry tests.? That’s all I did with Family Tree DNA test… 2 swabs and it has been good ….for a test 10 years ago… various SNPs and Family Finder last year. They kept my original swabs.

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  12. pat gatley says:

    can i get the dna sample from some place other than the mouth.. say like can i use the umbilical cord i saved from the birth of my son and soak it in the artiifical spit.

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  13. Michael says:

    Thanks so much for this! It worked great with my sister, who has trouble spitting. Now her test is up at Ancestry and giving me all sorts of new leads in our family history.

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  14. Samantha says:

    I am not sure. It could be worth a shot, but I would worry about the cells hvaing dried out. Worst they can do is reject the kit and send a new one.

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  15. Samantha says:

    I think I saw your question on a DNA group, but honestly, I am not sure it would work if it was allowed to dry. The only idea for a solution I can think of, would be to wrap the brushes ina paper towel soaked with the solution. Perhaps saran wrap?

    I just brushed for 30 seconds. I didn’t count the strokes. I moved it all around inside the cheeks to prevent any excessive irritation. I used all 8 brushes that came with the pack.

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  16. Samantha says:

    23andme and Ancestry are spit only. I have heard in the past that swabs were an option (not sure if its true or a rumor) but they are not available anymore.

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  17. Samantha says:

    Honestly, I am not sure the umbilical cord would work, especially after drying out. The cells have likely been damaged. It might be worth a shot, but I wouldn’t count on it working.

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  18. Samantha says:

    YES! I am so glad to hear this!!!!

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  19. Genetic Genealogist says:

    I watched that video. It’s a great idea. But it’s cruel to do that to a baby 8 times. You should wait until the baby is older and gives his own consent rather than being subjected against his will to the point where they stopped filming because he was angry and probably traumatised because he doesn’t know why they’re hurting him with 8 nylon brushes. That test is better suited to an older person. Just saying!

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  20. Sharyl Weich says:

    It worked? It worked!!
    I followed your instructions exactly, even bought the same brand of items that you used.
    It worked on my mother who has a disease that reduces her saliva.
    Thank you so much for these instructions!
    It never would have worked without doing it this way!
    We did Ancestry DNA test with the swabs soaking like you instructed.

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  21. Walker Hall says:

    I just did this method on my 16 month old, and followed instructions exactly, including filling a tiny bit above the fill line to start with. BUT, my liquid did NOT decrease, it increased with each brush! By the time I’d finished all 8 brushes, the liquid was significantly above the fill line — about halfway between the line and the actual top of the tube. Ugh, I hope it still works!! Will be very nervous now. Thanks so much for the great idea! If I have to do it again, I will start right at the line or a little bit below it. I’m not sure why you lost liquid and I gained. 🙂

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  22. Samantha says:

    Usually, the brushes end up retaining some of the liquid, which is why I do it just slight above! So strange!

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  23. Samantha says:

    Woohoo!!!!

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  24. Samantha says:

    He wasn’t hurt, trust me. He was fine. He was more upset he had to hold still. Love how this is “cruel” but vaccinations, shots, blood draws and heel pricks are totally kosher.

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  25. Walker Hall says:

    My baby’s results came in perfectly a couple of weeks ago! I was worried since his sample was way above the line, but no problems at all. Thanks for sharing your method!

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  26. JenS says:

    Do you think this procedure would work if the elderly person was able to spit just a little into the container instead of swabbing and then fill up the rest according to directions?

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  27. JR says:

    From AncestryDNA’s Privacy Statement — food for thought if submitting a sample from a minor.

    “v) Minors: The AncestryDNA Website and the Service are intended for adults. AncestryDNA relies upon parents or guardians 18 years of age or older to determine if the AncestryDNA Website and the Service are appropriate for use by individuals under the age of 18. When a minor uses the AncestryDNA Website and the Service, the parent or guardian of that minor will be held responsible for the minor’s actions and are deemed to have consented to the use of the minor’s information by Ancestry. By submitting a DNA sample of a minor, you represent that you are the minor’s parent, legal guardian, and/or have explicit permission from the minor’s parent or legal guardian. We do not knowingly seek or collect personal information from children under the age of 13. If AncestryDNA becomes aware that we have unknowingly collected personal information from a child under the age of 13, we will make commercially reasonable efforts to delete such information from our databases.”

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  28. Samantha says:

    I get that. I wonder if they are moreso worried about children under 13 being registered on the site with their own accounts because of COPPA laws? 13 is the COPPA age, and each underage kit I have registered, I have used the child’s actual birthday and ticked off the button stating I give consent (or have consent). I would think if they don’t allow it under 13, it would block you out when you put a birthday under the threshold. Thoughts?

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  29. Samantha says:

    In a normal situation, I think it would… Unless the person has already had multiple failed samples. If they have previous failed samples, there likely aren’t enough cells. I also wouldn’t do it witho0ut the swabbing, as you’d likely just dilute the spit down too much if you added the saliva mixture to it.

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  30. Kristen says:

    I just tried this on my three month old, but probably didn’t get it perfect. When I added 5mls to my tube, it made it WAY over the collection line …so I poured some back out. The tube was open at the top and didn’t appear to have anything in it that mixed with my “water”, so it might be OK. I also swabbed for a lot less than 10-20 seconds …probably closer to 2-3 seconds. My brushes came in a “bonus” pack of ten instead of eight, so I used all ten. My baby only got fussy after the 7th or 8th one. I’ll report back when I find out if it succeeded, or not. The mailman just picked it up!

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  31. Samantha says:

    Woohoo! Let us know how it goes!

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  32. Rina says:

    My dad failed 2 tests with ancestry and we’ve decided to try the third with that method. It finally worked !! Thanks so Much!

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  33. Samantha says:

    Yes! I am so glad it worked!

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  34. Kristen says:

    I just got results on my four-month old …your method worked for me, although my execution was far from flawless. Results came back super-fast, too. I only mailed the kit Oct 1st and have results today (Oct 10th). Thanks!!!

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  35. Sheryl says:

    Thank you!
    We are in the process of figuring out who my husband’s father is so were really wanting results but the Ancestry tests kept failing. We tried your method for his 4th test and it worked!
    Thanks again. 🙂

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  36. Karla Bolender says:

    Worked with an elderly woman whose Ancestry test failed the first time.

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  37. Juanita M Grohman says:

    I am about to try this method. I went to.the nursing home to try to collect spit from my 87 year old mother, for Ancestry Dna, but she could not spit at all. So I tried to use an “Infant Nasal Aspirator” to suck saliva out of her mouth ( you know like in a dentist chair, the tool sucks saliva out?) Well, that didn’t work, she was very dry. I didn’t get anything. So did the MyHeritage DNA test, with a swab. Decided to go home & try to find help online, then retirn tomorrow. So Im gonna try your advice! Hope it works! Thanks

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  38. Tiff Leistner says:

    I messed it up. Sample just was dropped in mail box and I came back to check directions (too late I know). I used 90ml of distilled water instead of 99ml. Do you think it will still pass? It’s my birth father’s 5th and last attempt

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  39. Sara Patton says:

    I just got my results back using your method (after multiple failed tests at both 23&me and ancestry dna) and your way worked at both places for me!! Thank you so much for this!

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  40. Samantha says:

    I am not sure. It may increase the salinity too much and cause the cells to burst. It’s hard to say

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  41. Linda Klein says:

    what is the point of the 2 other cups if you discard them?

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  42. Tiff Leistner says:

    My birth father failed his DNA test on Ancestry 4 times. I finally flew across the country to meet him. This alternative saliva technique is the Bomb. You don’t have to do it perfectly. I was able to get a successful DNA test on my birth father thanks to this way!

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  43. Dawn Minard says:

    May try with my Aunt, we are on test No.5 for her

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