As some of you may have seen in a previous blog, I recently devised a method to obtain a saliva sample for DNA testing without using actual saliva. (For full instructions, see my blog post: How to do an AncestryDNA test WITHOUT spit) This method has been questioned by many in genetic genealogy circles, however, I have yet to be made aware of it failing. This method has been successfully used with AncestryDNA as well as 23andme.
I originally developed this method in December 2016 after my daughter refused to spit in the vial without immediately gulping it down right after. Geesh… three-year-olds these days… While begging and pleading with someone who can barely count, I started brainstorming how I could possibly get DNA without spit for this test. I knew it was a frequent problem in some of my DNA circles, especially among elderly people. I thought that maybe my three-year-old could be an important part of figuring out how to obtain a sample. Perhaps this experiment could help other people obtain valuable data that they may not have been able to otherwise. So I jumped in feet first and did my best using what I knew already and what I researched after. I was on pins and needles and kept the whole thing hush-hush until I knew if it worked.
Sure enough, her results came back perfect. At that point, I decided to do another test to demonstrate my method for others to replicate. Jacob was my (super adorable) model and volunteer. Sure enough, just like his cousin’s results, his results came in perfect and exactly as we expected them to.
Additionally, a woman commented on my previous blog that she tried my method with a 23andme kit (and her own mouth) and the results came back correctly, showing her second kit as an identical twin to her first kit!
HELP ME OUT!
Now, here’s where I need help. If you used my method, PLEASE comment here on my blog or on my youtube videos and let me know what the outcome was. So far, I am 2 for 2 in the tests I have done using artificial saliva, but that’s not a very large sample size. If you’ve attempted my method, let me know! I’d love to be able to keep track of successes!
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.
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.
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!
You will not need a lot of supplies, but you will need more than if you were to just spit in the tube.
Pour a fair amount of distilled water into one of the clean cups.
Spray a small amount of saline into another clean cup until it pools in the bottom.
Measure 99ml of distilled water into the third clean cup.
Measure 1ml of saline into the third clean cup.
Discard the two unmixed cups.
2: Take Your Sample
Now the fun part! You will need to obtain your sample.
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.
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.
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!
This method was very successful for me. I used it to obtain DNA results for my brattystrong 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.