From your ancestry to your genealogy, and even all the way down to your health, 23andMe’s DNA Testing Kit provides you with a comprehensive understanding of who you are.
As one of the biggest competitors in the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, 23andMe offers clear-cut results that put your history and health into perspective via your test of choice.
Similar to an autosomal DNA test, the 23andMe testing kit takes into account information from your 22 chromosomes. What makes it different is that it also takes information from your sex-linked 23rd chromosome, which rounds off the results to provide you with more in-depth findings.
Certainly, the 23andMe DNA testing kit can’t promise to provide you with an accurate, exact representation of your health and ancestral history. But their precise estimates bring you as close to the truth as possible.
If you’re thinking of becoming a part of the 23andMe community, we’re here to help out. Find out everything you need to know about this DNA testing service to discover just how they can help you map out your past and your future.
|4.0 / 5.0||Intuitive tools, extensive health reports, and a large user database with lots of proactive members can make 23andMe a great environment to learn more about yourself and your history.||Findings from health and wellness reports might be helpful only with the use of a more accurate test taken through a medical facility.||Individuals who want to discover more about their unique personal qualities on top of their ethnicity and ancestry.||Starts at $99|
The Company Behind 23andMe
23andMe is a private personal genomics company that provides direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits for the purpose of personal research in genomics. They were founded in 2006, starting out by offering consumers genetic testing and interpretation services.
In earlier years, the company offered three different types of DNA testing kits – one for ancestry, another for health, and a third combining the features of the previous two. But in 2010, the company merged all three tests to a single kit which we know and use today.
To provide their clients with information on ancestry and genealogy, the company uses its African Genetics Project as well as their Global Genetics Project. Both of these programs aim to expand the company’s database to improve the depth and accuracy of their testing.
Presently, 23andMe comes close to the Ancestry DNA database, making it the second-largest DNA testing service available. Their system includes some 10 million DNA profiles from their users, providing a rather large pool of resources for those who want to learn more about their family history and ancestry.
The 23andMe DNA Testing Kit
Presently, 23andMe offers two different kits, both of which are similar to the autosomal kit. Testing all 23 chromosomes of your DNA, their kits provide a clear representation of your potential ancestry, ethnic history, and your health, to name a few.
What sets them apart from the usual autosomal test is that they involve the 23rd sex-linked chromosome in the analysis. So in effect, they’re able to dig much deeper into your ethnicity. For males, the test may provide slightly more reliability because of the involvement of the information contained in the Y chromosome.
The Ancestry Service kit retails for $99 USD and offers six different features to provide insight as to your unique history. The test covers information including:
- Ancestry composition – A breakdown of your ethnic mix based on over 1,000 regions used by 23andMe.
- Haplogroups – Discover potential general haplogroups from over 1,000+ years in the past.
- Share and compare – Compare and contrast your results with other family members to see how ancestors travelled throughout the years.
- Neanderthal ancestry – Get a very close estimate of your neanderthal DNA inheritance.
- Your DNA family – View places around the globe where there are most people with DNA like yours.
- DNA relative finder – Match with others in the database to find distant, living relatives and connect with them through the site.
The second kit from 23andMe is the Health + Ancestry Service. At $199, this test offers the same features as the previous, with a few extra inclusions. These are:
- Health predispositions – Receive 10 or more unique reports that demonstrate your potential for developing some of the most common diseases and conditions known to man.
- Wellness – Learn how your DNA impacts your well-being and lifestyle choices with a minimum of 5 reports that detail your wellness.
- Carrier status – Over 40 reports that indicate whether you could be a potential carrier of different types of hereditary or genetic conditions that may be passed on to children.
- Traits – Gain access to over 30 reports that talk about the way your DNA influences the traits that make you, you.
While the tests might seem comprehensive, it’s important to keep in mind that they do have limitations. The biggest potential downsides we spotted were the lack of accurate halogen determination and the limitation of Y-DNA and mtDNA testing results.
Sure, the tests might be more comprehensive than the typical autosomal tests you would find. But if you were interested in a more accurate in-depth trace of your genealogy across different branches of your family tree, then a dedicated Y-DNA or mtDNA test might better suit your needs.
What’s In the Kit?
When you purchase either of the two available kits from 23andMe, you’ll receive a saliva collection tube, detailed step-by-step instructions, and a prepaid return envelope that you can use to send your sample back via snail mail.
If you’re hoping to speed up the process, 23andMe also lets clients use expedited shipping at their own expense. You can start counting the days before you get your results as soon as the lab receives your samples.
Just like Ancestry DNA, 23andMe clarifies that they could take between 6 to 8 weeks to return your results.
How Much Does It Cost?
The 23andMe Ancestry Service DNA testing kit costs $99 USD, while the upgraded Health + Ancestry Service kit costs a hundred dollars more at $199 USD. Do note that these prices are inclusive of taxes and shipping, which technically makes the basic 23andMe Ancestry Service kit more affordable than the Ancestry DNA basic kit.
Choosing between the kits relies on more than just your budget, however. If you’re more interested in the intricacies of your ancestry and genealogy, then the affordable $99 USD kit should cater to your needs.
However, if you’re more keen on developing an understanding of the implications of your unique DNA profile on your health and wellness, then the more expensive kit should serve your purpose.
Unlike Ancestry and MyHeritage, 23andMe does not offer a free trial membership. What they do provide interested individuals is a demo account that guides them through what they might be able to do once they take the test.
Tools and Resources from 23andMe
All of the available DNA testing services bring you a range of tools that you can use to further enhance the meaning and relevance of your results. These resources are available on their platforms and are free to use as long as you take their test and become a part of the database.
23andMe has numerous tools that it offers its users to assist them in their personal genealogical research. These include:
- DNA Relatives – As a favorite tool among users, the DNA Relatives feature lets you find and connect with individuals in their database with DNA profiles that closely resemble your own.
Right off the bat, the DNA Relatives feature is not immediately available on the dashboard. That’s because it’s programmed to protect the privacy of those who wish to keep their information to themselves.
By opting into the feature, you get to access information from a range of other DNA profiles in the system. Here, you can connect and contact potential DNA matches from any branch of your family tree.
23andMe comes up with DNA match recommendations by using information collected from your autosomes and your X chromosome. Segments are compared across every other DNA profile in the system to provide you with a long list of family living members. The platform also indicates how closely related you might be.
The recommendations you receive when you first join the system might not be the final list available to you. As more people join the platform, 23andMe continues to re-scan your DNA for matches so your Relatives feature enhances over time.
If you strike a match, the feature lets you reach out to other users on the platform. By doing so, you can share further information about your genealogical research with each other and thus expand your knowledge.
- DNA Comparison – The DNA Comparison feature is a slightly more advanced tool for genealogical research. Essentially, it shows you how your DNA is similar to the people that share a profile with you.
You can select between one and five relatives to compare your DNA with at a time. After clicking the comparison button, the tool will present you a report on the different segments of your DNA that matches with your relative or contact.
The report will outline the number and qualities of the segments on each individual chromosome where you might match. To give you better insight on the extent of the similarities, the mirrored segments will be labelled half Identical by Descent (IBD) or full IBD.
The longer the segments, the closer you might be with the person you’re comparing your DNA with.
- Predicted Relationship – One of 23andMe’s more interesting tools is the Predicted Relationship. Upon striking a match with another individual in the database, the platform calculates just how close your relation might be.
Information including the match’s age and the extent of the DNA similarities to infer your relationship. For instance, a 22% DNA match with an individual 30 years older than you might be predicted to be a grandparent or the sibling of a grandparent.
For more distant relatives like third or fourth cousins, the prediction should be treated as no more than a best guess.
Although all predicted relationships are not conclusive, the feature can be helpful if you’re trying to piece together a family tree and you’re not certain where some of your matches fit in.
What’s nice about 23andMe’s list of tools is that they’re fairly simple to use and understand. The platform relies mostly on your connections to help enrich the results of your research. This is opposed to the Ancestry platform that leverages dated censuses and historical information to infer your ancestry.
Nonetheless, 23andMe’s unique system is what gives them a strong online community that gives it qualities similar to a social media platform. Most of those who use the 23andMe system admit that much of the excitement and satisfaction comes from making connections which can be both fruitful and fun.
23andMe DNA Testing – Is It Accurate?
Accuracy is the main concern for most people. That’s because no one wants to buy into a system that might mislead or cause you to draw false conclusions about who you are and where you came from.
So it begs the question – is 23andme accurate? The best way to start answering that would be to take a closer look into other direct-to-consumer DNA tests on the market.
While all of these providers use different systems and resources to help you unlock your genetic and ancestral history, none of them can come out to say that all of the information they provide is 100% verifiable and true.
That being said, 23andMe does not provide an estimate on the accuracy of the results and findings they provide. What they do indicate is that their test results should not be considered conclusive, but instead should serve as a guide towards a better understanding of your genetics and history.
At best, their test results should be taken as very close estimates. With their reports, users can start off on the right path when conducting their own research, laying the groundwork for self-discovery and understanding.
So can you rely on the 23andMe DNA testing kit? We say absolutely. Despite not being 100% conclusive, the results they provide paint a picture of the likely reality of your health and your past. Using the information they provide in combination with their unique tools, you can work away from the uncertainty and reveal the truth through your own research.
All in all, it’s a matter of managing your expectations. If you were hoping to reveal the truth about your health and history by simply taking a DNA test, then it pays to know that no such technology exists.
But if you were taking a test with the intention to build on the results you receive because you understand the limitations of present DNA testing technology, then the 23andMe kit can be a suitable starting point.
If you’re particularly careful with the information you share on the internet, it helps to know that 23andMe enforces a range of features that help protect you on their platform. For instance, their DNA Relatives feature is something you need to opt-in to if you want to access connections on the website.
That means that right off the bat, you will not be given DNA match lists on your dashboard. Neither will your profile show on other users’ dashboards. Only when you join the feature does your profile start to show as a DNA match on other people’s dashboards. That’s also when you’ll start to see matches on your own.
Aside from that, it’s also worth mentioning that the 23andMe company performs a number of research projects to provide better results to their users. Their sample populations are taken from individuals who take their DNA test.
But before they can take any of that information for the purpose of research, they provide you with a document for informed consent. Basically, this tells you what information will be used and who it will be shared with.
Individuals who opt into the research projects can expect their information to be accessed by 23andMe researchers as well as third party research partners. You have the option to opt-out anytime, but any information you already share can’t be withdrawn from previous research.
Aside from the information from your DNA tests, 23andMe also has a range of surveys that users can answer. Although these do not contribute to the results of your test directly, they can be used to further research that helps improve the 23andMe system.
You have the option to choose which surveys you want to take part in. Again, any information you consent to share will be used for 23andMe research.
The Benefits of 23andMe
What makes 23andMe a suitable choice if you’re looking to expand your own knowledge about yourself, your health, and your ancestral history? As the direct-to-consumer DNA testing kit provider with the second-largest database, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to be a part of the 23andMe system, including:
- Sizable pool of tested individuals – If your purpose for taking a DNA test is to find DNA matches that could potentially improve what you know about your family tree, then 23andMe has a large enough pool of users to help your effort.
With over 10 million profiled DNA samples available on their database, anyone in search of distant, unknown, living relatives can easily find matches in the extensive system.
- Over a hundred health reports available – 23andMe sets itself apart as a great choice for DNA testing with their elaborate health reports that give you a sneak peek into your detailed health and wellness status.
These reports can talk more about the unique traits that make you, you, or your potential for developing certain types of diseases and conditions.
Keep in mind that 23andMe does not guarantee the accuracy of their reports, but they can be used as a guide that you can use to dissect your health to a more detailed degree.
Couples who are thinking about having children might also benefit from the 23andMe health reports because they lend insight on carrier status. If you carry any sort of chromosomal aberration that could be passed on to your child, then you can take the necessary steps to minimize those risks.
- Intuitive tools – One thing you’ll really appreciate about 23andMe is how they try to provide tools that are easy and intuitive to use. Even the most inexperienced of researchers can easily squeeze out more relevance out of their results by way of the 23andMe tools available.
The dashboard is straightforward, simple to understand, and is designed especially to streamline your effort to fine-tune the results you receive. So whether your purpose is genealogy, ancestry, or health, the tools can be especially easy to get the hang of.
- Proactive online community – Anyone who gets to explore the 23andMe system will say that it operates a lot like a social media platform. Connections can be easy to find and contact, as long as you opt-in to the DNA Relatives feature.
But aside from the ease of establishing connections, 23andMe also provides you with the opportunity to share and compare information in a variety of ways. So what you get is a holistic social experience that doesn’t only enrich your research, but also encourages the connections between relatives.
- More detailed results than your average autosomal DNA test – Autosomes are the 22 pairs of chromosomes that do not include the last, sex-linked pair. Typical autosomal tests will only consider information from 22 chromosomes, but the 23andMe test – as you can infer from its name – considers all 23.
For that reason, the 23andMe test can provide you with more information than at a typical autosomal test. That includes sending you as far back as your general haplogroup.
Of course, it still won’t be able to trace migration patterns from prehistoric ancestry as well as a Y-DNA or an mtDNA test, but it will give you more detailed results than your standard autosomal test.
It also helps to know that 23andMe uses over 1,000 unique regions to tell you more about the origins of your family. So compared to other systems with less, the specific locations provided can be narrowed down to areas as small as a city.
Areas for Improvement
Is 23andMe the perfect DNA testing kit? There isn’t really such a thing. As with any other direct-to-consumer DNA testing kit, 23andMe does fall short in some ways. And these include:
- The relevance of health findings – 23andMe is careful to make sure that all of their clients are fully aware of the limitations of the accuracy of their health reports. So while they might be able to provide you with a broad understanding of where you stand, there’s no way to confirm unless you take another test through a medical testing facility.
That said, if you were worried about having a predisposition to disease, or if you were longing to know if you were a carrier, then 23andMe might not be the ideal first step. In fact, you could bypass their test completely and go straight to a certified medical testing service to get more accurate results for your health.
- Broad haplogroup – Another thing that you might see as a downside is a generalized haplogroup. Unlike a Y-DNA or mtDNA test that can provide you with a specific haplogroup for certain lineages in your family tree, the 23andMe test can only give you a broad haplogroup.
Why? Well, it’s important to keep in mind that your parents, their parents, 23aand all of their ancestors before they were joined together by way of marriage, not by blood.
So your father’s lineage comes from a different haplogroup, and your mother’s lineage comes from another one. The same goes for your grandparents, your great grandparents, and all of those before them.
Because 23andMe takes your genetic information as a whole, it merges these details to give you a broad haplogroup prediction that might be a little too generalized to fully appreciate.
- Hit or miss wellness reports – One user complained that he was found to have the same genetic qualities as an elite athlete despite claiming that he didn’t even have the qualities of an amateur athlete. That said, it’s important to keep things in perspective when reading through wellness reports.
At most, wellness reports can be seen as a ‘best guess’, providing you details about yourself that may or may not be completely accurate. Keeping your own knowledge about yourself in perspective can help you weed through reports and find information that’s truly reliable.
The Bottom Line
23andMe offers a broad range of resources that you can use to get a better idea about your personal, historical, and ethnic information based on your DNA. While some reports might be slightly questionable, the service provides relatively reliable results when taken as a whole.
We think the 23andMe DNA testing kit can be a great investment for your own personal growth and knowledge as long as you have the right mindset. Knowing how to build the information you receive from the test instead of treating them as 100% conclusive and polished should give more value to the test.
So, should you go for 23andMe? If you’re interested in understanding your ethnicity, your ancestry, and your health all in one comprehensive test, then yes, you definitely should.
- Pulling Back the Curtains on DNA Ancestry tests. Retrieved from https://now.tufts.edu/articles/pulling-back-curtain-dna-ancestry-tests on September 8, 2019