Non-paternity event

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In genetics, a non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity, not parent expected, or NPE) is the situation in which someone who is presumed to be an individual's father is not in fact the biological father. This presumption of NPE is a subset of a misattributed parentage experience (MPE) which may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse. An MPE may result from sperm donation, undisclosed adoption, heteropaternal superfecundation, promiscuity, paternity fraud, or sexual assault, as well as medical mistakes, for example, mixups during procedures such as in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.[1] Where there is uncertainty, the most reliable technique for establishing paternity is genetic testing; however, there is still a risk of error due to the potential for gene mutations or scoring errors.

Overall, the incidence of misattributed parentage experiences ranges from about 0.4% to 5.9%,[2] though it may be higher in certain populations. The discovery of previously unsuspected or undisclosed non-paternity may have both social and medical consequences. Non-paternity that is due to a previously undisclosed extra-marital relationship often has serious consequences for a marital relationship. Non-paternity is medically relevant when interpreting the results and utility of genetic screening for hereditary illnesses.

Definitions and uses[edit]

The term nonpaternity event was first used in 2000 in a study of the surname "Skyes" and the Y-chromosome haplotype to denote if non-Skyes males had been introduced into the family line.[3] Bellis et al. (2005) stated that misattributed paternity "occurs when a child is believed to have been fathered by the husband (or partner) but is actually the child of another man."[1] Non-paternity events are also sometimes referred to as misattributed paternity, paternal discrepancy or false paternity. Although it is sometimes referred to as paternity fraud, that suggests that the misattribution was deliberate, rather than accidental.[4] In a scientific review of non-paternity studies since the 1950s, Bellis et al. (2005) stated that knowingly covering up an accidental pregnancy that resulted from infidelity is often assumed to be the reason for non-paternity but that there are many other reasons: "for example, where sex with the long term partner has not produced children a woman might seek conception elsewhere." They said other reasons might be undisclosed adoptions, accidental misattribution resulting from multiple relationships in close succession as well as medical mistakes, such as mixups during procedures such as in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.[1]

In genetic genealogy, the term non-paternity is often used in a wider context to indicate a break in the link between the Y-chromosome and the surname. Such a breakage may occur because of formal or informal adoption, premarital or extramarital intercourse or rape; a woman raising a grandchild as her own to cover for her unwed daughter's pregnancy or when individuals use a different surname than their biological father, such as their mother's maiden name, a stepfather's name, the use of aliases or a legal name change.[5]

Testing for non-paternity[edit]

The most reliable test for paternity is genetic testing, also known as DNA testing. Requirements for consent and counseling vary by country.[citation needed] However, genetic testing is based on probabilities and is not always definitive. Jones et al. (2010) said, "Characteristics of the markers and the fact that they are analyzed by fallible humans can result in inconsistencies that present problems for parentage analysis." False negatives may occur due to low-quality samples, gene mutations, or genotyping errors (when a genotype is misread or inaccurately scored). There is a higher probability of accuracy when DNA from both parents can be tested. The accuracy increases even more when DNA from a sibling is available.[6]

Rates of non-paternity[edit]

Typical births[edit]

It is difficult to accurately estimate the incidence of misattributed paternity, and there have been large discrepancies in the research published on the topic. Often, data on non-paternity rates are reported tangentially to the primary goal of research without sufficient detail, and very few studies involve randomized samples. As such, it is not possible to make valid generalizations based on a large portion of the available literature.[7] Bellis et al. (2005) found that between 1950 and 2004, the rates of misattributed paternity published in scientific journals ranged from 0.8% to 30% with a median of 3.7%.[1] According to a study published in the Lancet, "High rates have been quoted, but are often unsupported by any published evidence or based on unrepresentative population samples."[7]

Turi King and Mark Jobling of the Department of Genetics at University of Leicester called the commonly cited 30% rate of non-paternity an "urban myth."[8] According to King and Jobling, the figure is really around 2%. They also stated that misattributed paternity is often impacted by cultural and socioeconomic factors and that it occurs more frequently among unmarried couples.[9] The sociologist Michael Gilding concluded that inflated figures have been circulated by the media, the paternity testing industry, fathers' rights activists and evolutionary psychologists.[10][11] He traced many of those overestimates back to a 1972 conference at which non-paternity rates as high as 30% were discussed.[12] Gilding states that those data show only the incidence of non-paternity in which disputed parentage was the reason for paternity testing.[1][13] In situations that disputed parentage was the reason for the paternity testing, there were higher levels with an incidence of 17% to 33% (median of 26.9%). Most at risk of parental discrepancy were those born to younger parents, to unmarried couples and those of lower socio-economic status or from certain ethnic and cultural groups.[1]

Atypical multiple births[edit]

Rarely, genetic testing has revealed children from multiple births to have different fathers, which is known as "heteropaternal superfecundation." One study estimated that the incidence of bipaternal twins born to white women in the United States is around one pair in 400.[14] Another study found the prevalence to be approximately one pair in 13,000 cases.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bellis MA, Hughes K, Hughes S, Ashton JR (September 2005). "Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences". J Epidemiol Community Health. 59 (9): 749–54. doi:10.1136/jech.2005.036517. PMC 1733152. PMID 16100312.
  2. ^ Dahlén, Torsten; Zhao, Jingcheng; Magnusson, Patrik K. E.; Pawitan, Yudi; Lavröd, Jakob; Edgren, Gustaf (2022). "The frequency of misattributed paternity in Sweden is low and decreasing: A nationwide cohort study". Journal of Internal Medicine. 291 (1): 95–100. doi:10.1111/joim.13351. ISSN 1365-2796. PMID 34288189. S2CID 236159135.
  3. ^ Sykes, B., & Irven, C. (2000). Surnames and the Y chromosome. American journal of human genetics, 66(4), 1417–1419.
  4. ^ Draper, Heather (2005). "Paternity fraud and compensation for misattributed paternity". Journal of Medical Ethics. 33 (8): 475–480. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.013268. PMC 2598159. PMID 17664309.
  5. ^ Bopp, Georgia K. (2006), Non-Paternal Event (NPE)
  6. ^ Jones; et al. (2010), "A practical guide to methods of parentage analysis" (PDF), Molecular Ecology Resources, 10 (1): 6–30, doi:10.1111/j.1755-0998.2009.02778.x, PMID 21564987, S2CID 37489604
  7. ^ a b Macintyre S, Sooman A (1991). "Non-paternity and prenatal genetic screening". Lancet. 338 (8771): 869–871. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(91)91513-T. PMID 1681226. S2CID 41787746.
  8. ^ Rincon P (11 February 2009). "Study debunks illegitimacy 'myth'". BBC News. Retrieved 11 February 2009.
  9. ^ King, Turi E.; Jobling, Mark A. (2009), "Founders, Drift, and Infidelity: The Relationship between Y Chromosome Diversity and Patrilineal Surnames", Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26 (5): 1093–102, doi:10.1093/molbev/msp022, PMC 2668828, PMID 19204044
  10. ^ Gilding, Michael (2005). "Rampant misattributed paternity: the creation of an urban myth". People and Place. Monash University. 13 (12): 1–11.
  11. ^ Gilding, M. (2009). "Paternity Uncertainty and Evolutionary Psychology: How a Seemingly Capricious Occurrence Fails to Follow Laws of Greater Generality". Sociology. 43: 140–691. doi:10.1177/0038038508099102. S2CID 145367552.
  12. ^ Philipp, E. E. (1973). "Discussion: moral, social and ethical issues". In Wolstenholme, G. E. W.; Fitzsimons, D. W. (eds.). Law and ethics of AID and embryo transfer. Ciba Foundation symposium. Vol. 17. London: Associated Scientific. pp. 63–66. OCLC 150487081.
  13. ^ Gilding, Michael (26 July 2011). "The fatherhood myth: Michael Gilding unravels the uncertain data about mistaken paternity". The inside story. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  14. ^ James, WH (1993), "The incidence of superfecundation and of double paternity in the general population", Acta Geneticae Medicae et Gemellologiae, 42 (3–4): 257–62, doi:10.1017/s0001566000003263, PMID 7871943, S2CID 10367392
  15. ^ Garcia; et al. (2015), "Heteropaternal superfecundation: Implicancies in forensic genetics", Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, 5: e633, doi:10.1016/j.fsigss.2015.10.007