There is another potential hitch: both mom and would-be dad need to be on board. They both must report to one of more than 1,500 collection sites nationwide to have a few tubes of blood drawn. In return, they’ll receive an emailed report as soon as five days later that indicates whether the alleged father is “included” or “excluded” as the biological father. The results, says Michael Baird, chief scientific officer for DDC, are 99.9% accurate, according to internal testing and a biostatistican unaffiliated with the company.
“There was no way we were going to offer a non-invasive option until the technology had progressed far enough that we could validate at the 99.9% level,” says Baird, who was the guy who determined that Larry Birkhead was the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn, and says he was the first expert witness in the U.S. to testify in a criminal DNA case. That was a missing body homicide case in 1987 in Norman, Okla.; lots has changed in the field of DNA since then.
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Just last week, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a maternal blood test analyzing the same kind of DNA as the paternity test is able to determine fetal sex as early as seven weeks, much sooner than currently used methods. That test searches just for the Y chromosome; the paternity test looks at all 46 chromosomes. “We’ve been looking for a decade for a non-invasive test we could do prenatally to determine paternity,” says Baird. “This has no risk to the fetus at all. It’s the Holy Grail of prenatal testing.”
Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.