The cost of genetic testing has dropped considerably over the years so that now it is affordable to almost anyone who wishes to have his or her DNA tested for any of a variety of reasons. The most common test is to determine paternity, in which a male's DNA is compared to that of a child to see if he could have provided half of the child's genetic composition, or if he could be completely excluded from the possibility.
Other tests available to most of us are testing for our ethnicity - might we belong to a Jewish, African or Native American haplogroup? - or to see if we are related to someone who shares our surname. Individuals can be tested so their DNA can be compared to others' to determine if they are siblings or even twins; or a grandparent or even the mother of a particular child.
Testing can be done with the guidance of a health care professional or genetic counselor, who may even take your DNA samples or direct you to a nearby lab. If you've done your homework and are confident about which test you need, you can, with or without the advice of a professional, obtain testing materials through an online lab. If your test results are part of a court case, you may be required to visit a lab to ensure the "chain of custody" requirement.
The testing method is usually the same: Buccal swabs take saliva from the inside of your cheek, just like you've probably seen on TV crime shows, which are then tested for the presence of your DNA. You'll have your results within the promised time-frame - usually two to four weeks.
Fees and services vary considerably from lab to lab. Make sure you understand what you are paying for, and don't be afraid to pay a little more for good customer service. For example, it's important that you can contact the lab to ask questions or request further clarification.
The American Association of Blood Banks is the accreditation agency for their member DNA labs. Their standards are high, assuring you of reliable results. When you're shopping for a lab, look for its claim of membership in the AABB.