23andMe is a bit different in that many people have tested with their company for the health results and are not necessarily interested in genealogy or matching with relatives, even if they opted into this feature. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good response when reaching out, but it may be less common than with the other testing companies. Recently 23andMe has been placing more focus on genealogical testing, however, so this is may be shifting.
The spit is for one of the home genetic-testing kits I’m sampling. A growing number of these kits (brands such as 23andMe, DNAFit, Thriva, MyHeritage DNA, and Orig3n) promise to unlock the mystery of your genomes, variously explaining everything from ancestry, residual Neanderthal variants, “bioinformatics” for fitness, weight loss and skincare, to more random genetic predispositions, denoting, say, the dimensions of your earlobes or the consistency of your earwax.
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There are many things to think about when deciding whether genetic testing is right for you. Although these tests can provide important information about health risks, they can also be upsetting or raise questions about what the results mean. Genetic tests also have certain limitations that are important to understand. Your personal and family medical history, as well as your goals for testing, should all factor into your decisions about whether and how to test.
The test that can tell you about your ethnic makeup is called an autosomal DNA analysis – also known as an ethnicity test – and it can reveal the population groups from this thousand year period who have contributed to your ethnic mix. It’s called an autosomal analysis because it looks at your autosomes; these are our non-sex chromosomes and they make up 22 of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that we inherit from our parents.
Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to forget. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family matching features.
Still, it is fun see a visual and numerical representation of where your ancestors came from (generally speaking) and, although there are those who swear by one company or the other, all of these testing companies do a fairly decent job of giving you a report you can enjoy and use in your research. FTNDA recently updated to the much anticipated MyOrigins 2.0 and MyHeritage DNA just updated to their improved 42 population Ethnicity Estimate and offers a nicely detailed report.

“My concern is that more and more of these tests are being put out, and people are being persuaded to have these tests done, and they get results back that are very often of very low value and dubious helpfulness,” she says. “And often people are told to go to see their GP and that then places a direct stress on the NHS, at no cost to the company. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout, the push-back, from the test results, in a way I find absurd. Why should the NHS have to prop up the problems that these companies create?”
The technique of DNA profiling was developed by Alec Jefferys in the mid-1980s and is based on the analysis of markers in DNA known as microsatellites or Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). These markers are found at specific points (also called loci) in everyone’s DNA and they’re motifs of two-six bases (the units that make up our genes) that are repeated numerous times. The exact number of times these markers are repeated differs between individuals, but members of a family will share the same or a similar number of repeated markers, depending on how closely related they are.

First of all, what is DNA? The letters stand for Deoxyribonucleic acid, a molecule encoding the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. Its structure was first described by Nobel Prize winners Crick and Watson in 1953. The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). The DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.