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Disclaimer: I ask this question from the position of having paid absolutely no attention throughout school/highschool science classes. I am incredibly ignorant, but I don't know how to find the answer to this question using google, and would rather consult actual live minds via this stackexchange.

My question is (I think) fairly straightforward: By examining someone's DNA, how much can you learn about their mother and father? Is it perhaps possible to analyse the DNA and do the equivalent of a "fast fourier transform" to extract and reconstruct the respective DNAs of their mother and father?

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  • $\begingroup$ I have found that when learning about a new area starting with a relatively accessible and reliable source like Khan Academy is very helpful. Wikipedia is also generally a good starting point and you can then check their references. Online platforms called MOOCs offer free (or very low cost) courses on a wide variety of subjects — two I am familiar with are Coursera and edX. Finally, textbooks with a good level of detail are also freely available online e.g. from NCBI. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Mar 17, 2021 at 23:02

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In principle, you can reconstruct 1/2 the genome of each parent.

Each of these halves is still a "complete" genome, in the sense that it (usually) contains 23 full chromosomes (there are 23 human chromosomes). Every person has two copies of their genome, one of which is inherited from each parent. I strongly recommend reading about meiosis to learn more about this.

Each of these single genome copies is called a haplotype, and is an outcome of recombination between their own two genome copies. So neither copy looks exactly like a parent, but is rather a mixed-up version of that parent's genome.

There are a lot of genomic methods out there that try do exactly this task (reconstructing parental haplotypes) by various means. It is somewhat complicated and expensive, but possible in principle:

  • One method is trio-binning, which involves also collecting data from the parents, but focusing most effort on the child. This is not very convenient of course if you don't have samples from the parents.

  • Other methods use only information from the child, but rely on various genome technologies to reconstruct haplotypes inherited from each parent. Here is an early example, and here is a very recent example. These methods however do this mostly on a chromosome-by-chromosome basis, so it is not always obvious how to group the 46 total chromosomes into 2 parental haplotypes of 23 each.

This is a very active area of methods development, so we can expect these references to be quickly outdated.

I do not think that any method will be able to use only the DNA of the child to reconstruct the full genomes of the parents. Maybe if you have a large database of other genomes you can do some imputation of the missing haplotypes, but I doubt that that would work very well.

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