When Daniel Keith Ludwig passed away from heart failure in 1992 at the age of 95, he left behind billions earned during a career as an innovative shipping tycoon. He also left a sizable chunk of his genetic material frozen and locked away because he never trusted that the daughter born to his first wife was his, and knew that when he left said faux-daughter out of his Will she’d take issue with the decision.
Talk about planning ahead -- Ludwig and his first wife were divorced in 1937, so 45 years later when “the daughter” realized she wasn’t getting an inheritance she contested the Will -- until Ludwig’s frozen DNA proved what he had suspected all along: She wasn’t his, and she wasn’t getting a dime.
That kind of foresight and paranoia (even if it’s proven to be well-founded) is certainly atypical, but it does pose the question of just how “gone” you are when you pass away, and is there a point where your genetic history is lost forever?
When legendary musician Prince passed away without a legal heir, the likelihood that someone would attempt to come forward claiming to be a blood relative was high. In that case, the courts were able to obtain blood samples from the coroner’s office for use in testing. Prince was eventually cremated -- so was this a case of quick thinking and good timing? Wouldn’t cremation render DNA testing impossible?
Not necessarily. Although some experts, like the Wisconsin-based Cress Funeral & Cremation Services, claim that “DNA is destroyed during the cremation process. At this time there is no accurate testing of DNA in cremated remains,” they might not be entirely in the right.
A company called Private Lab Results claims that they can still access DNA-rich material after the body has returned to ashes: “For the DNA testing there must be bone fragments or teeth left in the remains,” they explain. “These will be tested for the presence of DNA. If DNA is found, we can determine if the ashes are male or female. If enough DNA is found to create a profile, that profile can be compared to another family member to determine identity.”
While the results may not be entirely conclusive, or even achievable, there's some hope that DNA -- for better or worse (depending on your circumstances) -- may be sticking around longer than previously thought.
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