Each testing provider uses one of two methods to take your DNA sample and neither require blood. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage DNA both use a cheek swab method where the user gently scrapes the inside of their cheek. The swab is then placed in a vial and sealed. AncestryDNA and 23andMe use a saliva sample. Some people may have a hard time producing a saliva sample so this should be taken into consideration when deciding on which test to choose.
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.”
Three of the companies, MyHeritage, Ancestry and FTDNA, use the Illumina OmniExpress chip and 23andMe uses the new Infinium® Global Screening Array chip from Illumina. The fact that all of the chips come from the same company may be confusing, leading some to believe that all tests are created equal. This is not the case. The chip used to process DNA samples is only one part of the process. Each company develops their own analysis of the results, references different population samples and provides different reports. In addition, each one of these DNA test providers offers different tools for you to analyze the data you receive, creating variations in results, accessibility and usefulness.
Below we have included both a quick comparison chart that looks at each DNA testing option side by side and a detailed breakdown of each section in that chart. We’ve covered Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in our comparison because these four companies are the main trusted providers of genetic genealogy tests in the current market.
On all platforms except for National Geographic, you can initiate a search for relatives, though some services let you upload your National Geographic results for further analysis. The software continually searches for DNA matches as more people share their results. This feature may be useful if you're building a family tree or looking for relatives you've never met; otherwise, it may more of a nuisance. You can opt in or out at any time, and the DNA service doesn't share your contact information. Relatives can message you through the software, though. If you already use genealogy software, you may be able to download your results and upload them into your preferred program. Otherwise, AncestryDNA and others featured here have family tree software that you can easily link.
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As discussed, DNA is much more resilient than the items traditionally used to determine someone’s identity, such as passports, licenses or dog tags. In addition, a tiny DNA sample is often enough to produce a complete DNA profile, whereas paper or digital records can become difficult to interpret with even small amounts of damage. DNA profiling for DNA identification therefore offers a quicker and more conclusive method of identification than other approaches.
Some concerns about the ultimate efficacy of certain home tests seem to emanate from the industry itself. I did a telomere-measuring test (a mouth swab) by Titanovo, based in north Colorado, which came back saying that my telomeres were too short, putting me at 10 biological years older than I am. However, when I contacted Titanovo, it explained that it had stopped telomere measuring and was now concentrating exclusively on its DNA-utilising “bioinformatics” health, fitness and wellbeing website (analysing client data from other genetic testing sites).
There are mixed reactions to the use of ancestry DNA databases in criminal cases. On one hand, the rise of readily-available DNA information for millions of people has led to the arrests of several suspects related to long-cold cases, including the arrest of the Golden State Killer. On the other hand, law enforcement accessing private databases of genetic information from consumers raises several questions regarding privacy and ethical issues.
HomeDNA has the simplest DNA extraction process; just swab each cheek twice with a cotton swab, and place the swabs in the included envelope. The National Geographic Genographic Project sent a scraper that you use on each cheek for 45 seconds, and then place in a vial with stabilizing liquid. MyHeritage DNA has a similar process. 23andMe and AncestryDNA require that you spit into a tube up to the fill line (harder than it sounds), and ship it back with stabilization liquid. Most of the services said not to eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes to an hour prior to testing to get the best possible sample.
Written out the base pairs in DNA make a sequence, e.g. A T A T C G C G T A A T G C. More than 99.9% of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of the letters determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.