DNA Collection from People

DNA is found in many cells of our bodies.  There are actually two classes of DNA in our cells; one class makes up our chromosomes and is found in the nuclei of  viable cells. This is the  DNA used to identify individuals in forensics (like in CSI); and referred to as “nuclear” or chromosomal DNA. The nuclear DNA is a combination of the DNA inherited from our parents (each contributing half of their genetic material), who inherited it from their parents, and so on back to the beginning of people. In each offspring  it gets reshuffled (why we dont’ come out exactly  like our siblings). But that genetic heritage is our  link to the past and to the future thru our own children.

The second class of DNA is called mitochondrial DNA because it is a special little circle of DNA found in mitochondria, the power stations of our cells. Mitochondrial DNA has its own special properties; it passes from mother to offspring essentially unchanged. All of our mitochondrial DNA originated from the mitochondria of our mother’s egg cell. Importantly for the Life Jewels, the mitochondrial DNA is left behind when cells are no longer active. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA can be recovered from hair when there is no nuclear DNA remaining. Protected from the environment inside the hair, mitochondrial DNA lasts a very long time. In fact, that is the DNA often used to analyze ancient materials such as mummies.

The Easiest Way to Collect DNA – Cheekswabs

So when we collect cheek cells (sometimes called buccal cells) we are actually collecting both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. The soft tissue inside the mouth is an easily accessed source for multitudes of cells.  Shipping a cheek swab is easy; as long as the swab stays dry the DNA is preserved for a long time. You can ship by regular mail but we suggest choosing Priority Mail with delivery confirmation so you sample is tracked until it arrives.

As a demonstration, put your finger, pull out the inside of the cheek and rub up and down. You are basically going to repeat that motion using a soft brush in place of your finger tip. As you move it up and down you can also twirl the brush a little so that all the bristles of the brush rub against the cheek. You don’t need to rub hard- there should be no discomfort involved. Withdraw the brush and let it dry thoroughly, then put back in the paper envelope. Don’t put it in a plastic bag or sealed tube- the brush will have residual moisture and if you put it in a sealed container the mouth bacteria will start to grow and destroy the cells and DNA on the brush. This is IMPORTANT. If circumstances don’t allow you to use one of our preferred brushes, you can use cotton-tipped swabs  or a new toothbrush (residual toothpaste on a used brush won’t be good for the DNA). You can find small ones designed for toddlers at your drug store.

Other sources of DNA


This is generally the option if the loved one has passed away and hair has been saved as a memento. A small amount of DNA can be purified from hair and  a Life Jewel is still an ideal memento of a special bond. No special shipping is required. Please note that we will add some botanical DNA in order to complete the Life Jewel helix.

What About Cremated Ashes?

The high temperatures of cremation turn the DNA back to its native elements so that it is no longer biologically distinct. A Memorial Life Jewel can be made by adding a small amount of ashes to DNA from another source, such as a cheek swab from the submitter or another loved one. The ashes make a fine texture on the Life Jewel helix. The effect is subtle, making it an aesthetic and life-affirming way to keep a loved one close.