Some of the companies providing ancestry DNA testing have an option that will reveal information regarding any individual with similar SNP’s. It is even possible to acquire a list of individuals who may be included in the ancestry of your family. Once permission has been given, they are able to contact you and you can contact them as well. This may sound entertaining and harmless at first, but raises a lot of questions about what information people may not be ready to hear. You may already know specifically where you come from. Now imagine if you found out your real mother was actually your grandmother. Perhaps you were raised as you birth mother’s sister. You have to ask yourself if you could handle that type of information. Prior to signing up for an ancestry DNA service, you must be aware of all the potential implications that may be revealed.
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In testing, we found that many tests have much more specific and detailed results for European ancestry than anywhere else. This is due more to the diversity of the database than size. For example, AncestryDNA has the largest database with over 10 million samples yet results for Asian ancestry are markedly less specific than results from several companies with much smaller databases, including 23andMe and Living DNA. Instead of pulling reference samples directly from the existing database, however, many companies seek out high quality data with special research projects. 23andMe, for example, offers its Global Genetics project, which sends free kits to people with all four grandparents born in certain countries that are underrepresented in the database.
The first kit I try is Thriva’s baseline test (£49), which, like all its products, checks your blood. The box arrives promptly enough (containing spring-loaded needles, a little collection tube, antiseptic wipes, plasters, etc), but there’s a problem. The idea is to prick your finger and massage blood into the tube, but I just end up making my fingers sore and what I get out barely smears the top of the phial. Maybe it’s just me, but it turns into a right faff. In the end, I take advantage of Thriva’s service to send someone out to take a sample of blood from my arm.
Each of the kits work similarly: You answer a few questions about yourself, order the kit, collect your sample, register the kit (this is very important), send it back, and wait for the results. That said, they differ in the collection process and, to a smaller extent, the cost of shipping. When we tested 23andMe back in mid-2015, the company was unable to accept DNA samples collected in or sent from New York State, because of local laws (we had to cross the border to New Jersey). The company was also prohibited from shipping DNA kits to Maryland.
Hello, I have done fair amount of research into my genealogy. I have found extensive info on many of the family trees yet have hit a wall with my paternal line. I have only been able to trace back to my grandfather, his father, my ggrandfather, is a mystery. I have only found a marriage certificate and some minutes from a church meeting. Would the y-dna test be the most revealing? (My brother did an Ancestry test that was interesting but not that revealing.)
Thank you for such detailed information. I’m considering buying a DNA ancestry kit for my wife for Christmas (and buying one for myself as well). After reading your article (and many of the wonderful comments), I’m leaning towards the one from Ancestry.com. However, would I still get complete results without a subscription? I looked on their website and it doesn’t say.
The 100,000 Genomes Project is an NHS initiative, run by Genomics England, and is the largest national genome sequencing project in the world. On entering, patients have their entire genome, of more than 3bn base pairs, sequenced. This is different from commercially available genetic testing kits, such as those from 23andMe, which only look at very small stretches of DNA in a process called genotyping. The hope of the NHS is that having so much genetic information, from so many different people, will allow “groundbreaking discoveries about how diseases work, who could be susceptible to them, how we can treat them, and what treatments might work”.
It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”
Newman says that there’s a basic lack of “literacy” and understanding about genetic testing, among the public and even other health professionals. People are given false reassurances or made to panic (just because you have certain genetic variants, it doesn’t mean that you will develop a particular condition). Newman also makes the point that, in his field, counselling happens before and after testing and, while people with cancer or heart issues nearly always opt to have the test (as they can then take action to varying degrees), often people with conditions such as Huntington’s disease in their family decide not to go ahead because a diagnosis would change nothing for them. In any event, Newman says that, with genetic testing, while there are different levels, intensive counselling is always “absolutely key”.
Some services include shipping costs in the cost of the kit; AncestryDNA's $99 fee includes two-way shipping. National Geographic's Genographic Project ships the kits for free, but you have to purchase postage when you send your kit to their lab. 23andMe tacks on a two-way shipping fee of $9.95 for the first kit and $5 for each additional one. HomeDNA includes a prepaid envelope to return your sample and offers three shipping options: $7 for two-day shipping, $14 for overnight, and free shipping that takes 7 to 12 business days. Finally, MyHeritage charges $12 for shipping; if you order two kits, you pay $6, and if you order three or more, you get free shipping.
Living DNA supports 80 geographical ancestry regions, 21 of which are located within Britain and Ireland alone, making it a great DNA test for people wanting to delve deep into their British heritage. Of course, it also covers 60 regions outside of the British Isles, and is expanding its efforts to bring the same level of detail to other world regions. Although I have absolutely no British or Irish ancestry, I found my results extremely satisfying. I particularly appreciate that living DNA gives you a lot of ways to view your data. You can see your ancestry results as color-coded dots filling up a person’s silhouette, on a map, as a pie chart or on a timeline. All the graphics present the same set of data, but each has its own appeal. Within each graphic, you can also choose to view global or regional matches and cautious, standard or complete estimates, which each have a different level of detail and certainty. Like many of the best DNA test kits, Living DNA examines autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, as well as Y-DNA for males. The service’s Family Networks feature, currently in beta, allows customers to find DNA relatives within its database. I received test results 27 days after dropping my sample in the mail. One fun Living DNA feature is that you can order your DNA analysis in coffee table book form.
DNA tests give you an educated estimate of your ethnic makeup and help inform genealogical research by verifying existing family trees and informing future avenues of investigation. Additionally, there's a possibility you'll find living DNA matches - distant cousins and other relations - who could share their family history with you to build a bigger picture of your family tree.
Note that DNA testing isn't the only kind of kit that collects physical evidence from you these days. Ubiome is one noteworthy example. The service evaluates your microbiome—basically the bacteria that live in and on you. In our review, we took its gut biome test, which required our intrepid reviewer to send in a poop sample (insert poop emoji here).
Health & Wellness tests: There are a ton of health and wellness DNA tests. We found several specifically oriented to dieting and weight loss, including embodyDNA, Vitagene, DNAFit and the several options available through the Helix marketplace. While there definitely are some links between DNA and factors that contribute to weight, we advise taking these diet plans with a grain of salt, as DNA science is still a relatively young field. We similarly advise caution for the multitude of non-diet health and wellness DNA tests, which offer insights into your sleep, food sensitivities, and vitamin and mineral levels. And double that for medical information found in consumer DNA kit test results. While medical insights learned from taking an at-home DNA test may be interesting, it’s best not to take them too seriously. If you have a concern about a genetic predisposition to a disease, it’s best to talk to your doctor instead of relying on a direct-to-consumer kit.
23andMe is an excellent DNA ancestry test because of its highly specific results and vast geographic reach – it serves more than 1,000 geographic regions worldwide. The service tests autosomal, mitochondrial and Y-DNA to give you a complete picture of your genes. Four testers took 23andMe DNA kits during testing. We received our results 32 days later, and testers were highly satisfied with the overall experience, from ease of sample collection to the thoroughness of the results. Recently, the company updated its database and increased the number of geographic regions from around 170 to more than 1,000. The updated ancestry reports are also more detailed, especially for non-European regions. 23andMe’s ancestry tests give you information split into several different reports spanning your ancestry composition, maternal and paternal haplogroups, neanderthal ancestry and DNA family. Testers particularly liked the timeline feature, which estimates when your most recent ancestor lived in each of your matched regions. While 23andMe does offer DNA relative matching and some tools to compare your genes to your DNA relatives, it doesn’t have robust genealogy tools, as its focus rests more in personal discovery and exploration. To that end, 23andMe has an optional health upgrade that provides reports on DNA traits like hair color and genetic predispositions to certain illnesses and diseases. It is the only DNA test with FDA approval for testing genes linked to conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. If you’re interested in the health portion of the test, we recommend buying the Health + Ancestry test together, as this option costs less than upgrading later.
When my results appear, they show nothing bad. If anything, it’s anticlimactic: cholesterol, vitamins, liver proteins and the like are all in the normal range, with only ferritin (iron stores) slightly high, with a recommendation to go easy on any iron supplements. My problem with the baseline test is that, unlike Thriva’s other products, clients are supposed to have one every three months to keep track, but would I really want (or indeed need) to do such a test so regularly?