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Can Ashes Really Be Tested for DNA? Busting the Myth

Margaret Etudo
Scientist looking at blood sample.
Some occasions call for paternity tests or genetic investigation even after cremation. The most widely spread myth is that genetic material cannot be retrieved from cremated remains. However, the reverse is the case. The probability of success depends on the percentage of teeth and bone remains in the ashes.

One of the most popular myths about DNA testing for ashes is that they do not contain genetic material. This is because, during cremation, the heat from the cremation furnace destroys the traditional tissues used for genetic testing. However, that doesn’t stop you from successfully finding DNA.

While it may not be feasible to get a complete DNA profile from cremated remains, it's still possible. So, today we'll bust the myth that ashes do not contain DNA plus discuss when it’s too late to test for DNA in these ashes.

» Want to know more about your family history? Check out our top 10 picks for the best DNA testing kits and services.

Where Can You Find Human DNA?

If you think about it, DNA is everywhere in the human body. It’s in our blood, saliva, and urine. So when asked where you can find DNA in human tissue, the answer is anywhere. Of course, some tissues are better for DNA testing than others.

For example, blood is often used for DNA testing because it contains numerous cells that contain a lot of DNA. Saliva is also a good source of DNA since it contains cells inside the mouth that are filled with DNA. The easiest way to get a sample for DNA testing is from a hair strand. This is because it is easily obtainable and doesn't require a blood or saliva lab test.

So if you’re looking to get your DNA tested, chances are there’s a tissue suitable for that purpose. Consult your doctor or a DNA testing company to learn more.

Do Cremated Ashes Contain DNA?

Oftentimes, people may assume that cremated remains contain no genetic material. However, while cremation does destroy much of the original tissues of the body (lungs, intestines, stomach, and so on), it may not destroy the DNA.

During cremation, the heat is so intense that only the bones and teeth sometimes remain (but the heat may still alter them). These samples can then be tested through mitochondrial DNA analysis.

After cremation, ashes can contain trace amounts of DNA from the left-over bones and teeth. However, in some cases, bones and teeth can become fine powder in a process known as pulverization. DNA extraction becomes challenging in such cases, and its success rate is lower.

DNA testing helps to determine whether a set of human remains belong to someone you know. You can try out DNA tests to identify a person through their genetic material.

» Want to test your own DNA? Try a cheap DNA test.

Why Do DNA Testing on Cremated Ashes?

There are many reasons why people might want to test the DNA of cremated remains. Perhaps they wish to confirm the deceased’s identity or see if there is a genetic match with someone alive. In addition, they may be hoping to learn more about their family history or any inheritable health conditions.

DNA testing on ashes remains a reliable way to identify a person through their genetic material. For example, a fire victim. You may need to perform DNA testing on cremated ashes to check for signs of organic material or the presence of toxins in a body. It could also be to find a lost family member.

Whatever the reason is, make sure to take enough cremated ashes as the DNA sample. Although, this may take time, especially if the ashes are scattered. Plus, the test results may not be as accurate as tests from other sources of DNA.

Despite these setbacks, DNA testing on cremated remains can be a helpful tool for those seeking answers about their loved ones or themselves. If you or any loved one is in need of DNA testing on cremated remains, try a DNA test like Bio-Gene.

When Is It Too Late For a DNA Test?

When it comes to DNA testing, there are no rules about its time frame. It is possible to extract DNA hundreds of decades after death. There are, however, some limitations to consider when testing the DNA of a deceased person.

One of these is the quality of the DNA sample. Elements such as sunlight, heat, and water degrade the quality of DNA samples. They may make obtaining accurate results from ashes more difficult than samples from other sources—hair, blood, or saliva.

Regardless, waiting at least a year after a person dies for DNA testing is better. More so, there are often exceptions when it is best to wait even longer.

» Not sure if your past is accurate? Here are common mistakes about family history people make.

Bottom Line

It is possible to extract the genetic material of your loved ones from their cremated remains. However, the amount of genetic material in the ashes determines the likelihood of success. Therefore, for accuracy’s sake, you should consult a DNA testing company to ensure that your loved one’s ashes get proper identification after death.

This company can assess the situation, discuss the options and create a tailored strategy for dealing with the deceased’s cremated remains.

» Want to know more about your genetic health? Try 23andMe.

Margaret Etudo
Margaret Etudo is a medical writer specializing in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and other medical fields. She has written for several leading publications such as WebMD and Medical News Today, and makes it her mission to break down complex medical information for the everyday reader.