As it happens, most of the data on 23andMe seems harmless and fun. There are the “Neanderthal variants” (I have fewer of them than 58% of 23andMe customers, thank you very much), the bizarre earwax/earlobes-type data and, apparently, I have the muscle composition generally found in “elite athletes” (fancy). On the downside, my lineage isn’t as exotic as I’d hoped: 99.1% north-western Europe, of which 71% is British/Irish, with just 0.01% “Ashkenazi Jewish” to offset the genetic monotony. At £149, the 23andMe kit isn’t cheap and I’m quite tempted to demand a recount.
For our evaluations, we assembled a group of testers willing to spit into a tube on camera. We chose four individuals of varying backgrounds. Two had previously taken one or more DNA ancestry tests, and two had not. Two had fairly well-documented family histories to compare against, one was adopted, and one had information about one side of the family, but not the other. All of us took DNA tests from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, National Geographic and Family Tree DNA. One tester also took each of the five additional tests we reviewed. After collecting spit and cheek cells, we mailed all of the tests at the same time and waited for results, noting all communications from the company in the meantime and how long it took each service to notify us that results were ready to view. We collected data based on testers’ impressions of their results, each service’s features and extras, how easy it was to use and navigate the service’s website, along with several other factors. We added this testing data to rigorous research and information gleaned from conversations with representatives from Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritageDNA, LivingDNA, Humancode (now owned by Helix) and 24genetics.
We provide sample collection kits for all our tests. Paternity testing, relationship tests and most of our other tests entail the easiest and most painless method of sample collection using oral swab samples. Visit our collection guide for information about how to collect your own samples from home using our DNA test kit. Thanks to state-of-the-art genetic identification systems we are able to perform testing with many other samples such as hair, garments and toothbrushes. The discreet DNA samples section has more information on the types of totally non-invasive samples that can be tested.
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Many people who submit their DNA to a direct-to-consumer company also upload their raw information to public databases like GEDmatch, which law enforcement can access. People upload their raw DNA data after taking another test, like those from 23andMe or Ancestry, to several open online DNA databases. Most companies do not release database information to law enforcement. However, a recent study found that, using publicly available data, it's possible to identify up to 60 percent of Americans with European heritage via third-cousin-or-closer DNA.
Uploading my Raw AncestryDNA file to the free GedMatch service, immediately displayed my known Italian, Scottish, Welsh and English heritage along with French that I had been hoping to find to confirm a verbal family history plus Irish, German and Swedish which were a pleasant surprise that I will enjoy trying to discover which branch of the tree they belong to! I have also uploaded the DNA file to other free services, MyHeritage that also shows the Mediterranean connection along with LivingDNA whose results I am still waiting for. All these services also include cousin matches who share dna so you end up with a much bigger pool of possible matches than Ancestry alone.
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.
So from that perspective, if DNA testing for fun and to find potential cousin matches is something you are considering, then wait for when they have a cheap special offer available. If you want a proper ethnic breakdown, either use the raw DNA file and upload it elsewhere or use one of the more accurate providers. Note they only do autosumnal DNA testing and NOT Y-DNA testing so you will need to use another service for that.
When we speak, co-founder Hamish Grierson describes Thriva as “a lifestyle brand with medical-grade testing at the back end”, an opportunity for “people to see themselves as consumers rather than patients”. Grierson gives examples of people who have benefited from Thriva testing, sometimes picking up early on serious issues. As for alarming people, Grierson says that Thriva has on-site facilities to discuss results and is intended to be “complementary to the NHS” rather than replacing it: “If there are questions we can’t answer, we’re very clear that people should pick it up with their GP.”