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DNA is an initialism for deoxyribonucleic acid, which contains the genetic information that makes up most living organisms. As stated by the National Human Genome Research Institute, most DNA can be found in the cell’s nucleus, though traces can also be found in the mitochondria. Further, while offspring inherit half of the nuclear DNA from each parent, all mitochondrial DNA is inherited from female parents.

DNA is unique to each individual, excluding identical siblings. As such, a court might order DNA tests to determine a child’s parentage in a paternity suit. In other cases, DNA tests might be used on bodily substances–such as hair, skin, or blood–found at a crime scene to help determine who the perpetrator was. DNA testing has also been used to prove the innocence of people wrongfully convicted of crimes, especially those tried at a time when DNA testing was not as advanced.

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]