Dr. Michael Baird, Genetics Expert

Dr. Michael BairdDr. Michael L. Baird is the associate vice president, laboratory director and DNA technical leader of the DNA Diagnostics Center in Fairfield, Ohio. He holds a BA in biology from Drew University, an MA in biology from State University of New York, and a PhD in genetics from the University of Chicago. Dr. Baird has held numerous positions in the field of human genetics including postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan; research associate at Columbia University's Department of Human Genetics and Medicine; and senior scientist, laboratory director, and vice president of Lifecodes Corporation.

Dr. Baird has a Certificate of Accreditation from the New York State Department of Health for Forensic Identity, Histocompatibility, and Parentage/Identity Testing. He is also certified as a laboratory director by the College of American Pathologists for Molecular Testing and by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) as laboratory director.

Is there any preparation required for taking a genetic test?
There is no required preparation for the types of tests offered by my laboratory that involve DNA analysis for biological relationship or ancestry, although it is recommended that the person taking the test be knowledgeable about the testing.

What are the steps necessary for taking a DNA sample? What kind of equipment is needed to take a sample?
Most DNA testing for biological relationship or ancestry testing requires a cheek swab sample. This is obtained by rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of the cheek of a person; typically two swabs from each cheek. Since DNA testing can be performed on any tissue that contains DNA, blood samples, tissue samples or hair can also be provided.

How accurate is DNA paternity testing?
Using DNA methodology, paternity testing can either exclude an alleged parent as the biological parent or essentially prove parenthood. Although no genetic testing is 100% conclusive, the probability of paternity is typically 99.99% or greater if not excluded.

In regard to ancestry DNA testing, how is DNA interpreted? Could you briefly outline the process?
Ancestry DNA testing typically focuses on the Y chromosome and mitochondria. By examining a number of locations along the Y chromosome, a haplotype is generated that provides information about the paternal lineage of the individual tested. Likewise, mitochondrial analysis generates a haplogroup which provides information about the maternal lineage of the individual. Since both the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA is inherited as a unit, markers tend to stay together and can provide useful information regarding a person’s paternal and maternal ancestry. However, both of these test systems require an unbroken chain of biological inheritance. For example, since the Y chromosome is only inherited by males, any generation where only females are born terminates the Y chromosome chain of the paternal ancestor. Likewise, the mitochondria is maternally inherited, so a generation of all males would terminate the contribution of the ancestral female mitochondria.

An exciting new test we are now offering allows the analysis of hundreds of regions in the DNA knows as SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). By choosing SNPs which differ in frequency among different ethnic groups, an estimate of percentage of DNA from different ethnic groups present in a person can be calculated. Since this test does not have the limitations of the Y Chromosome and mitochondrial testing, it is applicable to all.

What type of criteria or certification is required of DNA testing labs? How can a consumer determine whether a lab is credible or not?
The premier organization that accredits laboratories for relationship testing is the AABB. Laboratories are assessed biennially by the AABB and are required to follow the Standards for Relationship Testing Laboratories developed by the AABB. The accreditation requires that the laboratory develop a quality system, perform proficiency testing three times a year and generate appropriate data from testing.

In addition to the AABB, several industry organizations provide inspections and certifications, including ACLASS for ISO 17025 (the international standard for testing laboratories), the College of American Pathologists (for molecular diagnostic testing), the New York State Department of Health (required to provide testing to residents of New York), ASCLD/LAB-International (for forensic and human identity testing), and CLIA (from the US. Department of Health).

What degree of education and training is necessary to analyze a DNA sample?
In our laboratory, the DNA analysts hold either a BS or MS degree and the laboratory directors who sign out cases hold PhD degrees. Although there is no required training period for a DNA analyst, we train our new analysts for six weeks internally before they perform testing.

The AABB requires that directors hold a doctoral degree (MD or PhD) in a medical or biological science. Two years of experience in an accredited laboratory is required for the laboratory director.

What advice can you give to people who wish to get a DNA test?
My advice for those that want DNA testing for relationship is to choose an accredited laboratory that has been in business for many years and is highly recognized among the DNA testing industry.

Also, become knowledgeable about the different types of testing available and make an informed decision. You should provide the laboratory with pertinent information to the case and make sure they understand your situation—not every paternity testing situation is the same. Some laboratories may not have the databases and extended testing panels required for more difficult testing situations, such as when a mutation is detected in the DNA profile, for example.

Take the time to give them a call and make sure that you are satisfied with the answers they provide. Because the results of paternity tests could have important implications, don’t be tempted to go for the cheapest solutions, which may not necessarily be the best option for you.

Do you have any further comments or suggestions for consumers regarding genetic testing?
My recommendation is to keep informed on what testing is available. Some genetic testing is well established, like paternity testing, while other tests are being developed for a wide variety of applications. DNA testing is still in its infancy in many areas and one needs to keep up with the developments to take full advantage of the potential.

For more information on genetic testing, please read our Genetic Test Guide. To find a DNA test, please consult our Genetic Test Directory.

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