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Science

Home DNA tests mean sperm, egg donors can no longer hide their identities

  • At least 10 million people have taken a DNA test in the United States alone
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 4:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 5:08pm

All Ryan Kramer needed was a swab of his cheek and nine days of genealogical research to identify his biological father, a man who thought he would be anonymous when he donated his sperm and never took a DNA test.

The year was 2005, when consumer DNA tests were in their infancy. Kramer was 15.

Thirteen years later, home DNA test kits have opened the floodgates for people who were born from sperm or egg donations to reveal the identities of their donors.

Donors used to be guaranteed anonymity, but things have changed, according to genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, founder of DNADetectives.

“It would be naive to think that a person could donate sperm or eggs and stay anonymous,” said Moore. “It isn’t going to happen.”

Even if people never send their own DNA to an ancestry website, donors can be identified indirectly by their genetic proximity to a distant cousin who took a DNA test.

With at least 10 million people having taken a DNA test in the US alone, probability alone suggests that nearly all the population could be linked somehow to one of the registered profiles online.

“Disclosure will occur at some point in time,” said Peter Schlegel, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “I would be shocked if that was not part of the standard discussion in the next five years.”

The site that sold Kramer his DNA kit found two men in its database whose genome resemblance meant they shared a common ancestor with Kramer, dating back to the 17th century.

Kramer and his mother Wendy knew the donor’s date of birth – the only biographical information given out by the sperm bank – and wanted to see whether anyone matched the unusual last name of the two men found.

Bingo. They found their match.

Kramer contacted the man, who said he was “thrilled” to hear from him. The two have stayed in contact ever since.

“He was the very first donor conceived person to find his donor through DNA testing,” said Wendy Kramer, who founded the Donor Sibling Registry in 2003. Now it has 60,000 members.

The four DNA websites that offer match services – Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, My Heritage – have so many users that it is rare for someone not to find at least one distant relative.

Kramer has found 16 half siblings since 2005.

Between 2015 and 2017, sales of DNA test kits boomed in the US and allowed websites to build a critical mass of DNA profiles.

It was around that time when Erin Jackson learned she had been conceived with donor sperm.

She immediately tested her DNA and up popped a half-brother.

“The resemblance was undeniable,” said Jackson, a 38-year-old freelance writer.

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Then, based on the name of a second cousin discovered on the site, and after some substantial genealogical research, she and her husband managed to trace the ancestry down to the donor.

Once contacted, he asked her not to write again.

Jackson says she hopes the end of anonymity will force sperm banks to limit the number of children born to the same donor.

Unlike other countries, there are no restrictions in the US.