Molly K. McLaughlin is a New York-based writer and editor with more than a decade of experience covering technology. She has tested and reviewed all sorts of software, mobile apps, and gadgets. Before launching her freelance business, she was an editor at PC Magazine, covering consumer electronics, followed by a stint at ConsumerSearch.com, a revie... See Full Bio
Another key customer type could be people like myself, hurtling through middle age, perhaps just starting to feel the cold bony hand of mortality clamp down on their shoulder. People, who, in the past, may not have exactly prioritised their health, who are starting to wonder what may be in store for them and who are in the (“Hypochondriacs R Us”) market for some hard-core insight and advice.
Every company providing DNA testing has their own database of DNA samples. These are called AIM’s or ancestry informative markers. These markers were derived from the current populations of America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Every database is looking for a pair of genes located on a specific chromosome in a specific position. The way the DNA is evaluated is through the SNP’s or the single nucleotide polymorphisms. The SNP’s are chosen according to the frequency in a specific geographical population. Your SNP’s are compared to the most common SNP’s for the various populations in the company’s reference database. The results are not conclusive because they are based on common genetic variations. The probability for your DNA being from a certain country is based on a comparison between your DNA and the database. If you used a different company, they would have a different database. This means your results would most likely differ. According to studies, the lowest concordance is with individuals of South Asian, East Asian and Hispanic descent.
If you are concerned about your data being sold, your concern may be valid. In the past, records have been sold and de-anonymized. It is possible for genetic information to be used to find the name of the individual the DNA came from. This can happen regardless of whether or not your name was in the database. This scenario has occurred in the past.
The trick for collecting a saliva sample is to give yourself plenty of time to create enough spit to fill your tube to the fill line (not including any bubbles). You should not eat or drink anything for at least an hour before collecting your sample, so it’s best to plan to collect your sample before eating. Our testers collected samples before lunch and found that thinking about the upcoming meal made saliva production easier, particularly as we collected multiple samples. Planning ahead and making sure you stay hydrated before you collect a saliva sample helps as well.
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.
This is one of the most common questions and the most difficult to answer. There are approximately forty companies currently offering DNA testing to determine genealogy and ethnicity. None of these companies have shared their data, no standards of accuracy have been agree on and independent scientists have not yet validated these methods. Some experts believe the results are valid, others feel they must be viewed with some skepticism. Once you receive your results, you must decide on the validity based on your knowledge of your family history.
Of course, most DNA used by law enforcement in the U.S. does not come from direct-to-consumer DNA tests. The federal government and many states collect DNA samples from suspects of violent crimes after arrest or due to probable cause. These samples are added to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which is a national database for forensic information.
Living DNA and Findmypast are British companies joining forces to combine cutting-edge science with traditional family history research methods. We’ve made every effort to find a DNA company to partner with that provides the most benefit for those looking to explore their British and Irish roots. Living DNA's test results provide a regional breakdown that perfectly complements our unrivalled collection of British and Irish historical records. It’s this powerful combination that makes this partnership the perfect marriage of science and history.
Who knows how much of it made solid scientific sense? However, I have to confess that I rather enjoyed it on the level of an indulgent genome-oriented “pampering session”, just as I had a hoot with the ancestry/Neanderthal/earlobe data on 23andMe. Where Thriva is concerned, I also noted that it did advanced thyroid tests. Although such tests are available from the NHS, I’m hypothyroid myself and I know that sometimes it can be difficult and time-consuming getting tests repeated and it could be useful to be privately tested in this way.

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Which is all very well, but do these kits work and deliver the service they promise and what about the wider ethics and implications of home genetic testing? Is it always wise for generally under-informed, under-prepared consumers to meddle in the highly complex, nuanced arena of genetics, risking confusion, complacency or even outright panic and anxiety when confronted with ostensible “bad news” (which may not even be true)?
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