The DNA tests we reviewed either require a saliva or cheek cell sample. Saliva-collecting kits include a tube that’s marked with a fill line and sample number. The tube often has a liquid-filled cap with a stabilizer that acts as a preservative to protect your DNA from degradation during transport. Cheek swab sample kits include one or two swabs for scraping the insides of your cheeks for 30 seconds to a minute to collect cheek cells and some sort of container to place the used swabs into after collection. This prevents contamination. Our testers found upsides to both types of kits but generally preferred saliva collection kits, even though they took longer.
In Newman’s view, the genie is out of the bottle with home genetic-testing kits. He says that while the kits could potentially provide data in the future, right now, they lack “clinical utility” – they look at genetic variants that, individually, have a very low chance of predicting specific health risks, as there are too many variables: “It’s like the Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, with some people further along the scale, and therefore more likely to get the condition and then people at the other end of the scale, who are unlikely to get it.”

If this individual used several different companies for DNA testing, they might get an idea as to their past origins based on the moderate or high similarities of the people currently living in different regions throughout Africa. This is only possible if the companies have established the correct reference populations. This person must understand their DNA is being matched to the current population as opposed to the people who occupied the region hundreds of years in the past. It is just as possible the results would state this African-American individual is 75 percent European. This is because the ancestry markers chosen are only for a small percentage of this individual’s DNA. The African population has a more genetic diversity in itself than a European population and an African population.


In addition to showing geographic ancestry percentages, some direct-to-consumer DNA tests also include insights about physical traits like hair and eye color. With 23andMe, this trait information is mostly available in the upgraded Ancestry + Health kit, but some interesting tidbits can be found in the Your DNA Family report, which is available if you opt to participate in the DNA Relatives service. This report tells you interesting information, such as that your DNA relatives are 32 percent more likely to own a cat or 11 percent less likely to have lived near a farm when they were young. DNA Passport by Humancode offers information about more than 20 physical traits, from appearance to grip strength. Ancestry DNA recently added its AncestryDNA Traits upgrade for $10, and it lets customers who have already taken one of its tests unlock information about 18 genetically influenced traits, including bitter taste perception, freckles and cilantro aversion.


When I found out about AncestryDNA, I thought this could be the perfect tool to pinpoint where my family emigrated over the past few hundred years (AncestryDNA can actually go back 1000 years) and give me a focus where to take my search next. When I got the email that my results were ready I felt like a kid on Christmas day. They revealed that I was only 40% British, 25% German and 35% Greek. I’ve now focused my search on these three countries and already discovered ancestors I never knew existed.
Whether it’s an autosomal test, a Y-DNA test or an mtDNA test, virtually all providers use the same science. Some providers offer an ‘off the peg’ solution such as Ancestral Origins™ or AncestrybyDNA™, so if you’re interested in these you should shop around for the lowest price. Most providers offer a test that interprets and presents the results in a unique way, so if one of these catches your eye, look for examples of how the results are presented on their website before you buy.
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