Bill Newman, professor of translational genomic medicine in the Manchester centre for genomic medicine at the University of Manchester, and chair of the British Society of Genetic Medicine, says that such tests in this context simply don’t make sense and that, usually, telomere testing would only be used in in-depth studies of ageing and diseases associated with ageing. “There’s some really brilliant work going on, by some of the best biologists in the world,” says Newman, citing Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine for her work on telomeres. “But there’s no evidence whatsoever that measuring a person’s telomeres gives any indication about their health – or beauty, intelligence, or anything else that might be listed on these sites.”


As my dad and I have begun to explore our genealogy over the past seven years or so, we’ve found that our family is largely from Spain, which is no big surprise. Colombians have a wide range of ethnicities, which explains why many Colombians, including my mother, have white or fair skin with blue eyes. My dad also suspects we have German ancestry somewhere back there.
When STR profiling is carried out, the whole of the person’s DNA is not examined. Rather, specific regions (loci) of the DNA which are known to vary greatly between individuals are examined. These loci are areas of the DNA which contain varying numbers of repeating sequences known as short tandem repeats (STRs). It is the number of these repeating units which can differ between individuals. If there are differences between profiles obtained from different samples, the two samples cannot have come from the same person. If, however, the profiles match, then it follows that the samples could have originated from the same person or from any other person who happened to have the same STR profile.Â
To prepare to take a cheek swab sample, you also have to refrain from eating for about an hour before. Swab kits generally contain more components, including one or two swabs and containers to protect the used swabs from contamination. We found it easiest to organize all the pieces first, to prevent any fumbling with a sample collection swab in hand. Some cheek cell kits put a stabilizing liquid in the sample containers, which required extra caution to prevent spilling.
Many DNA databases, including Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage DNA, have family search features, which match your DNA with that of potential relatives. These features help users searching for family, including adoptees and children conceived through sperm donations. Almost every DNA testing service we interviewed for this article had a story ready about how its service facilitated a heartwarming family reunion. Like these from Ancestry, this one from MyHeritage and this one from 23andMe. Because many DNA services also have resources like family tree builders, the tests work in tandem with genealogical research.
Finally, if you happen to meet a special someone on DNA Romance and want to see what your future child together might look like, there’s BabyGlimpse by HumanCode. Like a very advanced Punnett square, BabyGlimpse compares your and your partner’s DNA to create a profile that examines which traits your offspring might inherit, including things like ancestral DNA, eye color and lactose intolerance.
When STR profiling is carried out, the whole of the person’s DNA is not examined. Rather, specific regions (loci) of the DNA which are known to vary greatly between individuals are examined. These loci are areas of the DNA which contain varying numbers of repeating sequences known as short tandem repeats (STRs). It is the number of these repeating units which can differ between individuals. If there are differences between profiles obtained from different samples, the two samples cannot have come from the same person. If, however, the profiles match, then it follows that the samples could have originated from the same person or from any other person who happened to have the same STR profile.Â
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.

Otherwise, the home-testing kits could be said to fit in with our increasingly health-conscious and, if you wish to be cynical, narcissistic times. What says you’re “special” more than finding out everything about yourself, right down to the nitty-gritty of genetics? In this way, these kits could be viewed as the latest plaything of the “worried well”. You could see how the scientific approach would appeal to the health-obsessed of all sexes and ages, your marathon runners and serious gym-goers, who take their fitness extremely seriously.


Testers appreciated the amount of information and context given with each report. For example, the regional ancestry report matches your DNA to broad world regions on a map, but it also compares your DNA to two more-specific reference populations. My regions were Northeastern Asia and South China Sea, which fit the Korean and Japanese reference populations. Another tester was matched to 11 geographic regions throughout Europe, North America and West Asia, and they were matched to Argentinian and Puerto Rican reference populations.
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.
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.
×