European Journal of Human Genetics (2017) 25, 768–770; doi:10.1038/ejhg.2017.31; published online 8 March 2017

Paternity testing under the cloak of recreational genetics

Nathalie Moray1,2, Katherina E Pink3,4, Pascal Borry1,5 and Maarten HD Larmuseau5,6

  1. 1Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  2. 2AZ Maria Middelares, Gent, Belgium
  3. 3Family and Population Studies, Centre of Sociological Research, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  4. 4Faculty of Life Sciences, Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  5. 5Leuven Institute for Genomics and Society (LIGAS), KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  6. 6Forensic Biomedical Sciences, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Correspondence: Dr MHD Larmuseau, Forensic Biomedical Sciences, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 33, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. Tel: +32 16 33 66 63; Fax: +32 (0) 16 32 45 75; E-mail:

Received 10 December 2016; Revised 1 February 2017; Accepted 7 February 2017
Advance online publication 8 March 2017



Direct-to-consumer (DTC) internet companies are selling widely advertised and highly popular genetic ancestry tests to the broad public. These tests are often classified as falling within the scope of so-called ‘recreational genetics’, but little is known about the impact of using these services. In this study, a particular focus is whether minors (and under what conditions) should be able to participate in the use of these DTC tests. Current ancestry tests are easily able to reveal whether participants are related and can, therefore, also reveal misattributed paternity, with implications for the minors and adults involved in the testing. We analysed the publicly available privacy policies and terms of services of 43 DTC genetic ancestry companies to assess whether minors are able to participate in testing DTC genetic ancestry, and also whether and how companies ethically account for the potential of paternity inference. Our results indicated that the majority of DTC genetic ancestry testing companies do not specifically address whether minors are able to participate in testing. Furthermore, the majority of the policies and terms of services fail to mention the vulnerability of minors and family members in receiving unexpected information, in particular, in relation to (misattributed) paternity. Therefore, recreational genetics carries both the risk of unintentionally revealing misidentified paternity, and also the risk that fathers will deliberately use these services to test their children’s paternity without revealing their intentions to the mother or any other third party.