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Frequently Asked Questions


DNA, what is it, why it’s important and why you need to know about it?
Why don’t you deal directly with the public?
Why is this service is delivered through funeral homes and palliative care organizations?
Why would I want to store my loved one's DNA?
How is the sample collected?
Does the sample need to be collected from a cheek swab?
How long will the DNA last? Will it eventually degrade?
When DNA gets banked or put into a keepsake, what is involved in researching it further?
Who has access to the DNA?
What happens if my living memorial tree dies?
What is a DNA Memorial Portrait?
My funeral home doesn’t offer this service. What do I do?
Do I need to decide immediately?
I’m not in North America can I still use this service?
Why are you based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada?


DNA, what is it, why it’s important and why you need to know about it?

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA). The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences. In such a way everyone’s story is written differently.

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Why don’t you deal directly with the public?

This question comes up a lot. We use regulated funeral or death care providers because of the high standards of privacy and the sensitive nature of the product. We want to help families but are very concerned about privacy issues. Regulated service providers have strict confidentiality rules and regulations they must adhere to allowing us provide an exceptional service from initial contact with families to follow-up questions years later.

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Why is this service is delivered through funeral homes and palliative care organizations?

The death care sector is the logical place for this service to be offered. No one likes to thinks about a loved one passing away. Therefore in the vast majority of cases no one has even thought about saving their family’s DNA. The funeral or palliative care partners are the last chance to save this invaluable information that someone’s DNA holds. They are very sensitive to family concerns and very tactful in their approach of the subject.

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Why would I want to store my loved one's DNA?

Immortalizing a loved one
DNA Banking allows the genetics of your loved ones to live on forever - even after death. Ashes or other keepsakes have no intrinsic value but the DNA will preserve that person’s essence of who they were in life. We prepare the sample to last indefinitely, and return it to you inside a stylish keepsake or a secure vial. Alternatively, you can choose to keep it in our facility.

Inherited Medical Information
Genetic decoding is leading to a tsunami of information for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of hundreds of diseases. Because DNA sequences are passed on with very little variation from one generation to the next, a DNA test of a 95 year old great-grandmother is of immediate and direct relevance to the health of her six-month-old great-grandson. DNA Banking is an important step towards preserving that history and improving the health of future generations. A family medical history helps document familial patterns which may impact your health, such as trends towards specific types of cancer, early heart disease, or even something simple such as skin conditions. Compiling a family medical history can help doctors spot these family patterns and use the information to assist with the following:

Ancestry
Using specific DNA markers can also trace ancestry thousands of years back. More recently, some DNA markers have been used to link persons to individuals as far back as 5000 years ago (Breakthrough DNA study links B.C. woman, 5,500-year-old “grandmother” By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News July 5, 2013). This technology is in its infancy as most people don’t realize that DNA analysis was only invented in 1986 with a technique called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). There are also specific DNA types that have interesting applications for ancestry and heritage research including STR (short tandem repeats) mtDNA, Y DNA and some rare DNA mutations.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is contained in the cytoplasm of the cell, rather than the nucleus. This type of DNA is passed by a mother to both male and female offspring without any mixing, so your mtDNA is the same as your mother's mtDNA, which is the same as her mother's mtDNA. mtDNA changes very slowly so it cannot determine close relationships as well as it can determine general relatedness. If two people have an exact match in their mtDNA, then there is a very good chance they share a common maternal ancestor, but it is hard to determine if this is a recent ancestor or one who lived hundreds of years ago. It is important to keep in mind with this test that a male's mtDNA comes only from his mother and is not passed on to his offspring.

Example:
The DNA tests that identified the bodies of the Romanovs, the Russian imperial family, utilized mtDNA from a sample provided by Prince Philip, who shares the same maternal line from Queen Victoria. Y chromosomal DNA - More recently, the Y chromosome in the nuclear DNA is being used to establish family ties. The Y chromosomal DNA test (usually referred to as Y DNA or Y-Line DNA) is only available for males, since the Y chromosome is only passed down the male line from father to son. Tiny chemical markers on the Y chromosome create a distinctive pattern, known as a haplotype that distinguishes one male lineage from another. Shared markers can indicate relatedness between two men, though not the exact degree of the relationship. Y chromosome testing is most often used by individuals with the same last name to learn if they share a common ancestor.


Example:
The DNA tests supporting the probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered the last child of Sally Hemming’s were based on Y-chromosome DNA samples from male descendants of Thomas Jefferson's paternal uncle, since there were no surviving male descendants from Jefferson's marriage. Markers on both mtDNA and Y chromosome tests can also be used to determine an individual's haplogroup, a grouping of individuals with the same genetic characteristics. This test may provide you with interesting information about the deep ancestral lineage of your paternal and/or maternal lines As more ancestral markers are identified, DNA ancestry testing will become much more powerful than it is today. By keeping a record of your family’s DNA, you are opening new doors and creating exciting new opportunities that were never available before.


Legacy
Elevate the tradition of creating a family tree by allowing participants to save a sample of their DNA. Your family’s DNA will be safely preserved for generations to come. By starting this process you will become the patriarch or matriarch of your genetic linage with the information beginning with you. Thousands of years from now your sample will be the starting point for your family tree.

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How is the sample collected?

The sample is collected by completely non-invasive methods. A sterile cotton swab is rubbed on the inner cheek several times then allowed to air dry. This swab is then sealed and mailed back to our laboratory where we will extract (separate it from rest of the cell components), purify (remove any enzymes or chemicals that may damage it), stabilize it and preserve it to halt the degradation process. Using our proprietary method the DNA is bound very tightly to a substrate reinforcing its structure. The end product resembles a fine white dry powder.

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Does the sample need to be collected from a cheek swab?

No, we can also extract the DNA from hair or skin collected. With hair, ensure that several body hairs are collected and that these hairs still have the root attached. As another alternative, a light scraping of the skin will result in a sufficient amount of skin cells to extract the DNA. Detailed instructions for all of our collection methods are included in each kit.

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How long will the DNA last? Will it eventually degrade?

Under our storage conditions, the DNA will last indefinitely. Not only do we extract and purify the sample, but our researched method of storage also stabilizes the molecule, holding it in place and halting the degradation process. This includes the paintings but not the living memorial. Although the DNA is viable in the tree as the tree grows it would be impractical to try and extract it.

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When DNA gets banked or put into a keepsake, what is involved in researching it further?

Whenever someone is ready to get some questions answered about what information is enclosed in the DNA, it can be sent away for further analysis. At DNA Memorial, we can help with all the necessary steps. The analysis can be done right away or years later. Having the DNA stored gives anyone the option to get it researched further whenever they are ready for it. Prices for genetic testing as well as the options available continue to improve every year.

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Who has access to the DNA?

In most cases the DNA is returned to the family and that is up to them. If the banking-with-us option is chosen, an account is set up after the sample arrives. We will issue a certificate of analysis, a banking agreement as well as your account number. The persons listed on the agreement will have access to that account. Other people can be added in the future with the signed permission of the original account holders. We will not test, share or even acknowledge the existence of the account to any outside agencies for any reason including law enforcement. We are building our reputation on strictest confidentiality and quality of service.

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What happens if my living memorial tree dies?

We will replace the seedling in the first year at no charge if you have also chosen the DNA Banking option in which we are able to access more DNA sample.

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What is a DNA Memorial Portrait?

For any of the DNA Memorial portraits we work with a very famous and talented memorial portrait artist who has done portraits for 911 victims, Arnold Palmer, Reggie Jackson, Martina Navratilova, Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry and Betty Davis. Her work is on display in California Police departments, Duke University and even the greeting card Hallmark Corporation’s head office. We supply her with the DNA sample in a powder form. The funeral home or individual contacts her directly. Her website is www.cassidyalexander.com

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My funeral home doesn’t offer this service. What do I do?

If the service provider doesn’t provide this service at the current time, ask them to contact us and we will send the collection kits to them. They need not be an official location to still access our services. We do not deal with the public directly for services other than the banking-with-us option, but we do answer any questions, walk you through the process and deal with any concerns. We also warranty any products directly so if something is not satisfactory for any reason we deal with the complaints directly and try to get them resolved immediately.

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Do I need to decide immediately?

No you do not have to decide immediately. The sample does have to be taken before cremation or interment but will still be viable for a few months. This allows family members to discuss and educate themselves about the subject. Many service providers will agree to store the sample for 60 days for you to make a decision. After that time has elapsed, we consider the sample questionable and would offer no guarantee that sample will be completely intact. The sample gets destroyed at the sixty day mark if the family has not responded, provided they chose the 60 day holding period when they contacted the service provider. This holding period is provided free of charge.

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I’m not in North America can I still use this service?

Tell your service provider to contact us directly and we will send them all the required items, paperwork and sampling kits. We are based in Canada but can service the global market anywhere as long as there is a reliable courier system.

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Why are you based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada?

Thunder Bay was not randomly chosen for this service. It is located 650 feet above sea level on the Canadian Shield which is solid rock. There are no natural disasters such as hurricanes, massive flooding or earthquakes. There is cheap reliable power from multiple sources and a well-built infrastructure. Canada has some of the strictest privacy laws about DNA in the world. There is an adequate supply of skilled workers from the biotechnology program of Lakehead University. The technology cluster located here including the Cancer research facility, University and three other DNA innovation companies allow us to continue collaborative research to improve our company.

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