Don't tell the stupid cuckold!

Here is a summary of findings by a paper which suggests that the vast majority of genetic counselors tend to err on the side of protecting a mother's privacy if her husband is not the father of her child. Here is an important point though:

It is much more likely that bringing up the possibility prior to testing will put the woman in the very position we are trying to protect her from. ... If, as I have suggested, the counselor plans to attempt to keep paternity but not personal genetic information from the man, it is probably better not the discuss the issue ahead of time.

The problem is pretty obvious, for autosomal recessive diseases like Cystic Fibrosis both parents need to be a carrier. There have been instances when "fathers" found out they weren't carriers, and that is how they discovered that their child was not their biological offspring (this is not a non-trivial consideration when medical expenses can result in a great deal of debt and the biological father is absolved of any financial responsibility). But there is another angle which is important: a man who is ignorant of the ramifications of autosomal recessive diseases and the ease of paternity checking status is likely to be dull in the first place. Additionally, cross-cultural data tends to show that high socioeconomic status males are much more confident of the fidelity of their partners, and have reason to be, paternity misassignment for these males is as low as 1%.1 On the other hand, lower socioeconomic males tend to be cuckolded far more often. In the future relatively cheap and ubiquitous genetic screens will make one's autosomal recessive status something that most individuals will be aware of, at least abstractly, but the less intelligent males are probably the ones who won't do the punnett square.

Wondering how dull some low SES males can be? Watch the video below the fold....

I do not believe this is actually a "true story." Nevertheless, any remote shred of plausibility would disappear if we were told that the man was an investment banker or doctor.

1 - This can be confirmed by the relatively high fidelity of elite patrilineages in the historical record.

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I can pretty confidently predict that we are less then 5 years from having the technology for a *disposable* home paternity test kit.

By rikurzhen (not verified) on 17 Dec 2006 #permalink

A sufficiently informed middle-schooler might be able to do such a thing now -- gene mapping and electrophoresis tools have been available in toy stores for at least two years. I believe Discovery.com sells one.

Forget chemistry sets... the cool nerdy kids are doing molecular biology now, before they even get to high school...

Come on, this story can't be true.
Even is that guy didn't get it, friends or relatives would have clued him in .

By ogunsiron (not verified) on 17 Dec 2006 #permalink

the trick is to do it without electrophoresis

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aside -- i rewrote that damn comment half a dozen times to affect just the right degree of certainty, only to leave a "then" where i wanted a "than".

btw Z, you often write "than"s when you mean "then"

By rikurzhen (not verified) on 17 Dec 2006 #permalink

you never know. an ozzie friend of mine, who was english in heritage, had an ex-gf and her family try and claim her baby was his. he (and his family) knew the baby wasn't his since it was clearly part east asian!!! but they took the pat. test anyhow :)

Even is that guy didn't get it, friends or relatives would have clued him in .

In a religious/Creationist country, stupidity is always believable. Then again a college professor looked me right in the eyes and told me race didn't exist and white parents could produce an African-American baby. If her - a PhD - why not him?

Also, perhaps this special type of obliviousness is an evolutionary adaptation:

In contradiction to the widespread belief that it would be in fathers' interest to be skeptical of these allegations, the model suggests that, under conditions of infant anonymity, fathers will actually promote their own fitness by believing their spouses.

By Jason Malloy (not verified) on 17 Dec 2006 #permalink

" Then again a college professor looked me right in the eyes and told me race didn't exist and white parents could produce an African-American baby" . . .

Well, folk models of race often have a fairly limited relationship to real-world biology. I'm not at all up on the genetics of skin color - is it not possible for two lightish-skinned ("white") parents both with some recent African ancestry to produce a darker-skinned ("African-American") baby?

is it not possible for two lightish-skinned ("white") parents both with some recent African ancestry to produce a darker-skinned ("African-American") baby?

theoretically possible. don't know though if someone would could pass as white skin color wise would produce something that was brown. also, if you take epistasis and varying genetic backgrounds, you could get weird results.

but those are outliers to the general tendency j. malloy speaks of.

It's not impossible for that to have not only been a true story, but for the child to actually have been fathered by the man.

It's far less likely than the possibility that it wasn't his, especially considering that the wife admits cheating. (And yes, the whole thing may be faked.)

Alas, I suspect the general human inability to process statistics objectively has struck yet again.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 18 Dec 2006 #permalink

I'm not so sure about the "home paternity" test. While gel electrophoresis might be possible, microsatellites are the markers that offer the highest resolution, and this needs PCR. I doubt that a test using RFLP could be done either- both for practical issues as well as for "technical" ones.... not to mention all the erroneous results..

Matt, imagine high sensitivity/specificity detection of microsatellite size w/o gel electrophoresis or too much in the way of DNA amplification. It's just a matter of solving a number of technical problems. Then throw all that into a microfluidics package.

I imagine such a package would be developed first for portable DNA profiling in law enforcement. It would be an easy step to make a home paternity kit out of it.

In reality, you could do paternity testing with SNP genotyping as well.

By rikurzhen (not verified) on 18 Dec 2006 #permalink

For those interested, DNA solutions has a £99 promotion for a 16-loci paternity test. Here is the link to take the paternity test.