Best DNA test for 2021: AncestryDNA vs. 23andMe and more
There are many reasons why you might want to take a DNA test. Knowing more about your genetics can aid kick-start or increase your understanding of your family history by identifying relatives dating back to your early ancestors. Some tests claim to reveal your "ethnicity," though it's a controversial matter. There are also DNA testing services that can shed light on your genetic predisposition to diseases and physiological traits, from eye color to your tolerance for cilantro.
If you're in the market for a DIY DNA test, there's never been 'a better time to do so'. While they used to cost about $1,000 back in the 2000s, with pioneers such as 23andMe and Ancestry, and upstarts like Living DNA, you can now obtain a detailed DNA analysis of your genetic makeup for merely $1,000 today.
There are three types of DNA tests -- each with its own strengths, limitations, and arguments.
- An Anatomy of Anatomical Structures (Anatomies) Autosomal DNA test for the determination of DNA content. For most beginners, it is the best investment because it allows them to identify relatives between five and seven generations back, both maternal and paternal.
- Only men can effectively use a weapon. Y-DNA test (Y) This study examines male relatives dating back 60,000 years, which has male descendants dating from a 6,000 year period. If you're trying to trace the origin of your family's surname, this is the test to use.
- Mitochondrial DNA testing for mitobacterial DNA has been reported in numerous studies. , also known as '. ) - also called ; also referred to as " ", is a member of the Germanic slang for "sea urchin" / "the u-shaped cleft" (also known by the comma "" Testing for mtDNA and spliced DNA Both men and women may take this type of test.
Each testing firm will give you a detailed report on your DNA test results. Your geographical origin -- some claim to be able to pinpoint a specific country, town, or even "tribe" -- as well as your genetic ancestry composition and susceptibility to certain genetic diseases may also be affected. We should also note that these tests are not diagnostic. If you suspect you have a genetic disease, obtaining s/he or she carries out id testing and coordinating re-tests with neurologist is essential. No online testing firm that offers saliva samples can substitute for a doctor-supervised health test.
Several firms will also offer "matches" from their DNA databases, giving you a head start on connecting with potential relatives and allowing you to gain some family tree research support. AncestryDNA, for example, provides a subscription service that includes access to hundreds of databases that contain birth, death, and marriage announcements, census documents, newspaper archives, as well as other historical records.
Some DNA companies offer tests geared toward specific ethnicities or specialized kits that claim to shed light on your ideal skin care regimen or weight; others offer scans designed to determine the genetic makeup of your cat or dog. (Yes, you can get a dog DNA test.) The experts I spoke to, on the other hand, were concerned about the effectiveness and value of these tests and advised avoiding them.
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Though modern DNA testing does not involve blood -- you either swab the inside of your cheek or fill a small test tube with your saliva -- there are plenty of reasons to be wary of the companies that sell these kits. Your success in DNA test genealogy is largely dependent on providing highly sensitive information about yourself and your relatives, from your genetic information to your mother's maiden name -- that traditional cornerstone of password security.
Experts caution that regulation, particularly in the US, is far behind technology. Concerns about data privacy and security are well-founded, and experts caution against it. You should also be aware that some DNA testing companies may share information with pharmaceutical companies and law enforcement agencies. Bottom line: Think carefully before submitting any information about your health history or familial connections to any DNA testing company or organization.
Read more: In the future, not even your DNA will be sacred.
DNA testing, and genealogy more generally, involves a complex mixture of genetics, probabilities, as well as guesswork. Various DNA testing companies utilize a variety of laboratories, algorithms, equipment, and criteria to analyze your genetic material. Although you should expect some overlap between analyses from different firms, they may be quite different. There's also an element of critical mass -- the more company' s database, the larger the sample they use to analyze your results, and the greater the test'' accuracy.
We tried some of the top DNA testing services, assessing the breadth and depth of their services' offerings, methodologies, reputation, and price. Take a look at our recommendations below.
Best DNA test for beginners.
23andMe, which was founded in 2006, is one of the first companies to offer DNA testing to consumers. In 2017, it became the first such service to receive FDA approval as a risk screening tool for diseases. Since taking a $300 million stake in GlaxoSmithKline, which uses the firm's customer data to develop and develop new drugs, it has grown to be one of the most well-known DNA testing firms -- and well funded, as well. Still, the business announced a number of layoffs, citing heightened privacy concerns and deteriorating DNA testing demand.
23andMe breaks its analysis into three main categories -- health, ancestry, and traits. The basic ancestry and traits test, which is now on sale for $79, includes an analysis of your genetic makeup, including your regions of origin, maternal and paternal lineage, and Neanderthal anthem. Once you have selected your option, the match database -- which includes more than 10 million profiles -- will identify and connect you to individuals who have a DNA match with you.
The company's DNA health test, which is on sale for $129, provides additional information about your genetic predisposition to late-onset Alzheimer'', Parkinson' and other diseases. The service also includes analysis of your carrier status as a possible genetic carrier for disorders like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia, as well as indicators for lactose intolerance and other "wellness" issues. The VIP Health and Ancestry package, currently on sale for $429, includes priority lab processing, premium customer support, and a personalized walkthrough of your results.
23andMe's website and mobile app were easy to navigate and full of useful, readable information about both my ancestry and health as well as the science of genetics and genealogy. The main dashboard offers easy navigation to exploring your ancestry, learning about the genetic consequences for health conditions, building a family tree, and connecting with relatives. 23andMe provided the most thorough introduction to my recent and ancient genealogy, as well as an analysis of my genetic health, among all of the DNA tests I attempted. The only real drawback is that it does not provide integrated access to historical documents.
However, 23andMe provides easy access to a wide range of privacy preferences and consent options. (That said, 23andMe's terms of service and privacy statement is among the most extensive, exceeding 20,000 words.) You may ask the firm to store your saliva sample indefinitely for future testing or have it destroyed. I changed my mind about allowing the firm to share my data with researchers outside of 23andMe, and was able to retract my consent with the click of a button. I initially agreed to the company's use of my information when I joined up, but after changing my opinion, I was then prompted to reconsider.
Read more: Which DNA testing kit is best for tracing your family history?
Best possible combination of DNA analysis and historical research
Ancestry.com -- the parent company of AnancetryDNA -- began out as a publishing and genealogy company in Utah in the 1990s. It has since had a somewhat turbulent corporate existence, having been bought, sold, publicly traded, and then acquired by private equity firms.
The company's basic DNA kit service, currently on sale for $59, provides you with an "ethnicity estimate" derived from its proprietary sequencing techniques. It's worth noting that the business' genetic testing, which is outsourced to Quest Diagnostics, is different from most other companies that use paternal Y chromosome and/or maternal mitochondrial DNA methodologies, and that little is known about the criteria it employs.
That said, AncestryDNA claims its database contains more than 18 million profiles, making it the largest of all of the DNA test kit services. The firm also provides a powerful tool for searching through hundreds of historic document databases, but any serious research will quickly lead you to stifle. Ancestry's databases are further enhanced by its partnership with FamilySearch.org, a genealogical records site run by the Mormon church, which has been extended.
After a free two-week trial, an entry-level membership, which gives access to more than 6 billion records in the US, costs $99 for six months or $25 per month. The "World Explorer" membership, for $40 per month, broadens your access to the firm's 27 billion international records, and the "All Access" tier, starting at $50 per monthly, includes unlimited access from Ancestry' s historical and contemporary database of more than 15,000 newspapers and military records from around the world.
AncestryDNA offers a personalized health report with "actionable insights," access to genetic counseling resources, an online tool to help you track your family's health over generations, and, beginning in August 2020, 'a next-generation sequencing service for screening your genetic risk for heart disease, certain cancers, blood disorders,' as well as individualized health reports with actionable recommendations. The tests are not diagnostic -- though one of the firm's physicians must approve the test result -- and the service is not FDA approved. 23andMe maintains its advantage in introductory DNA testing for health risks and genetic screening for now. But AncestryDNA's service is especially suited for incorporating an introductory DNA analysis into more detailed historical research to create a family tree.
AncestryDNA allows you to download your full DNA results profile and upload the raw data into other tools, and it gives you reasonably good privacy control, although the options aren't as broad as others.
Read more: What AncestryDNA taught me about DNA, privacy, and the complex world of genetic testing was what Anancetry DNA taught us about genetics, genetic technology, ethics, as well as the risks of testing.
Best analysis and tools for intermediate users.
FamilyTreeDNA was founded in 2000 and offers a variety of reports and interactive tools to analyze your DNA and create s ur family tree. With a credible claim to have "the world's most comprehensive DNA matching database," FamilyTreeDNA offers all three types of tests -- autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mtDNA. And it's the only business to own and operate its own testing facility: The Gene-by-Gene genetic lab in Houston.
The company's entry-level "family ancestry" package typically costs $79, though its testing kit is sometimes available for less. The test results provide information about your ethnic and geographic origins, identify potential relatives, and give access to the firm's massive DNA database. I paid $275 for a broad DNA test that included analysis of my mtDNA and Y-DNA -- tests that cost $119 and $159, respectively, when you purchase them individually -- as well as the "Family Finder," the firm's autosomal test.
Although the user interface is more complicated than you'll find on other sites, FamilyTreeDNA offers the most comprehensive set of introductory tools of any provider I tested. For each type of test, you are presented with matches -- I got more than 22,000 for my autosomal DNA test -- a chromosome browser, migration maps, haplogroups, and connections to ancestral reference populations, information about mutations and downloadable raw data. To learn more about yourself, your family, and your health, there are numerous threads to follow.
Family Tree also offers a number of more advanced tests, for those interested in digging deeper, such as Y-DNA tests that will trace the evolution of your male ancestors and the origin of Your Surname. The firm also allows you to upload raw DNA data files from other services and transfer your autosomal information to its database to broaden your network of matches and relationships.
FamilyTreeDNA offers several features that I find appealing from a data security and privacy perspective. The firm does its own DNA testing in house, processing and storing your sample in its lab. On the front page of its website, a promiscuous declaration that the firm will never sell your DNA to third parties is prominently displayed. FamilyTreeDNA may, like most other businesses, use your aggregate genetic information for internal research and may comply with requests from law enforcement -- unless you opt out.
Other options for DNA testing include pregnancy and other test options.
The three services above are our top choices for the best DNA test. But they weren't the only ones we tested. What follows are some additional options, none of which eclipsed 23andMe, Ancestry, or FamilyTreeDNA in any significant way.
MyHeritage is a site dedicated to MyPatriotics.
MyHeritage, which is based in Israel, was founded in 2003, and like a number of other services described here, started out as sex tree software. It acquired a number of historical databases and added DNA testing in 2016. (MyHeritage outsources its DNA analysis to FamilyTreeDNA.) MyHeritage suffered a security breach in 2018, exposed 92 million users' email addresses and hashed passwords.
MyHeritage provides a free tier of service that includes some basic family tree-building and access to historical documents. It won't take you too far.
The basic DNA testing and analysis service, which is now available for $49, includes the usual fare -- a report of your genetic makeup across the company's 42 supported ethnicities, the identification of relatives and connections to them where possible -- as well as the recognition of connections and relatives wherever possible. All things considered, I would have preferred FamilyTreeDNA's presentation of my DNA information. But MyHeritage identified a first cousin in the United States, with whom I shared about 15% of my DNA, and offered to show me her family tree -- if I paid yearly remittance of $209.
Yes, it's expensive -- a free 14-day trial is available -- but the business has an impressive online database of historical documents that includes 3.5 billion profiles in addition to information on over 100 million subscribers and their collective 46 million family trees. Geni.com, a genealogy social media site that's also MyHeritage'' s parent company, has created "the world'' largest, scientifically vetted family tree," according to the New York Times.
MyHeritage will soon begin a health test similar to that offered by 23andMe. As part of this effort, the firm collaborated with PWNHealth, a network of US doctors who oversee the process. I was asked to complete a personal and family health history questionnaire -- it was 16 questions -- which was then apparently reviewed by ostensibly screened by an expert. Though the company claims to have suggested a "genetic counseling" session administered by PWNHealth, my health results were not included in my ancestry analysis.
On the plus side, I like MyHeritage's easy access to a wide variety of comprehensible privacy preferences. Overall, I found MyHeritage's user interface significantly less intuitive and more difficult to navigate than others. Though the firm offers a large research database of historical documents, DNA analysis, and health screening, the integration among them was clumsy.
Living DNA is a living DNA variant.
Living DNA describes itself as a "consumer genealogy DNA service that does not sell or share customers' DNA or data with third parties," which gives you 'a taste of its priorities -- or at least, its awareness of customers concerns. LivingDNA's headquarters in the UK may also be a factor in its distinctive mission statement, as it' is subject to more stringent data and privacy regulations of the GDPR.
LivingDNA divides its offerings in a different way than other businesses. The $69 autosomal DNA kit provides an overview of your ancestry in 80 geographical areas, as well as information on maternal and paternal haplogroups, and access to the company's genetic matching software. The $79 "wellbeing package" includes reports on your physiological compatibility with vitamins, foods, and exercise. And the $99 package includes all of it.
Recent ancestry results are presented with a breakdown of percentage by country as well as the percentage attributable to more detailed regions, aswell as origin and migration paths of haplogroups. LivingDNA will release an African Ancestry DNA test report in February 2020, which includes data on 72 countries in Africa and "five times the detail of any other test on the market." Existing customers can obtain the report for free.
That said, the firm has a very limited family match database; he declined to give me if it had surpassed 1 million profiles, but said that it contained less than 150,000 individuals. My wife, who took the test, returned exact zero matches. Also, if you're looking to identify and establish relationships with relatives, there are more options on the market. LivingDNA has a very strong reputation among experienced genealogists for the accuracy of its DNA analysis and privacy policies.
For experts only: Whole genome sequencing.
There are a number of companies that can sequence all of your DNA, also known as your genome, including Full Genomes, Veritas Genetics, Nebula Genomics, and Dante Labs. This level of analysis is intended for advanced users only. Not only is it time-consuming -- these tests can cost up to thousands of dollars in some instances -- but it also requires a thorough understanding of both genetics and dozens of technical tools to examine and interpret your results.
The most expensive whole genome tests cost about $300. For example, Full Genome's 30X test -- which scans every targeted location of your genome 30 times on average -- is considered the standard for a clinical analysis. It costs $1,800.
For most people, the primary reason for sequencing the whole genome is to dive deeper into their genetic health perspective. You can examine your individual risk factors for diseases, drug sensitivities, and your status as a carrier; that is, what you might pass on to your children. However, there are plenty of applications for advanced genealogical projects.
All of these efforts may be undertaken -- to a lesser extent -- with some of the more affordable options outlined above. But whole genome sequencing offers a significantly more comprehensive, precise, and high resolution analysis.
Nebula Genomics may be the place to start if you're interested in this area. You may also upload an existing DNA sequence from Ancestry or 23andMe's DNA database and get Nebula'' reports for a reduced price.
We'd probably avoid DNA tests if we could.
HomeDNA sells testing kits under a number of brands, including DNA Origins, and has'retail' presence at Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Ritt Aid. The company claims that its tests combine genetic research and "ancestral tracking" techniques that can pinpoint the town or village where your ancestor(s) originated with a high degree of accuracy. Numerous experts dispute these claims.
The company offers a variety of ancestry testing services starting at $69. That's the price point for the maternal and paternal lineage kits and the "Starter Ancestry Test," which uses DNA markers to determine your origins in Europe, Indigenous America, East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa -- and shows you the modern population groups that share your DNA. The $124 "Advanced Ancestry Test" expands the analysis to 80,000 autosomal genetic markets, 1,000 reference populations, and 41 gene pools.
The HomeDNA test kit, unlike all of the other kits I used, did not contain a warning about not eating or drinking for any period of time prior to taking the test. And of the four swabs the company sent, only one broke. The test kit just didn't seem as clean as the others.
HomeDNA claims that the Asian Edition of its GPS Origins Ancestry Test can analyze 17 Asia-specific gene pools and hundreds of Asia specific reference populations for $199. In addition to a $164 paternity kit, the firm also offers dozens of specific kits to determine your allergies to certain animals and foods, one to help you maintain optimum weight, and another that promises to "unlock your skin's full potential."
For $39, the business will allow you to upload a raw data file from another DNA testing service and pinpoint your origin to o renumit town or city. There are also kits that will assist you in screening your dog or cat for genetic disorders and traits.
However, this business has a very poor reputation in the genetic genealogy industry. When we spoke with Debbie Kennett, a genetic genealogist from University College London, she referred to the firm's notoriety for producing "bizarre results" and expressed doubts about the effectiveness of its specialized tests for certain ethnic groups. HomeDNA did not respond to CNET's inquiry about its testing procedures or results.
And the HomeDNA reports don't stack up well to those reported by other businesses. Results are summarized on one webpage, though you also get a PDF that certifies that you've "undergone DNA testing" and lists the continents and countries where your DNA originated. The firm also includes a basic 20-page explanation of DNA science and technology. HomeDNA does not have access to any matching databases -- there's no obvious next step or actionable data that comes with your results. Given this, I'd recommend switching to a different DNA testing provider.
African Ancestry claims to have the largest database of African lineages and will trace its customers' ancestry back to a country and identify their "ethnic group origin." Several experienced genealogists have raised concerns about this firm's marketing claims and scientific studies.
African Ancestry does not offer an autosomal DNA test, unlike most other businesses. Instead, it offers an mtDNA test or a Y-DNA testing (for males only). In contrast to your typical DNA analysis, African Ancestry's report doesn't show the percentage of DNA that'll likely have originated in a number of regions. African Ancestry claims to trace your DNA to a continent in Africa.
According to experts, however, African Ancestry's DNA tests fail. According to a blog post by African American genetic genealogist Shannon Christmas, the business's methodology simply doesn't analyze dozens of DNA markers to deliver on its marketing promises.
Furthermore, he writes, "Ethnicity is a complex concept, one that is not as deeply embedded in genetics as it is in sociopolitical and cultural constructs. There is no DNA test that can assign anyone to an African ethnic group or what some call an 'African tribe'." African Ancestry isn't the only firm that claims to be able to determine your ethnicity or "ethico-economic group of origin." But its claim to limit things to a single "tribe" of origin is overblown, as any African tribe would ostensibly contain multiple haplogroups.
African Ancestry stated in an email to CNET, "African Anancetry makes it clear that ethnic groups are social and cultural groups, not genetic ones." Nevertheless, based on extensive genetic research of African lineages conducted by African Ancestry's co-founder and Scientific Director (who holds a Ph.D. in Biology and specializes in human genetics), we find that contrary to layman' s beliefs, there are ethnic groups that share genetic lineage. Our results reveal genetic lines that share the same genetics as our test takers. Given the huge number of lineages in our African Lineage Database, we are able to provide that common lineage to the ethnic groups of the people."
The company's PatriClan Test analyzes eight Y-chromosome STRs and the yAP, which it claims is a critical identifier for African lineages, and its MatriCLAN Test analyses three areas of mitochondrial DNA: HVS1, HV2 and HVF3. But, despite the fact that these tests produce lower-resolution results than other, African Ancestry's services are substantially more expensive. The company's Y-DNA test and mtDNA tests cost $299 each, or you can take them both and get an eight-pack of "certificates of ancestry" and four- packs of T-shirts for $729.
On the plus side, African Ancestry states that it does not maintain a customer database and that you will not share or sell your DNA sequence or markers with any third party -- including law enforcement agencies. The company's terms and conditions are approximately 2,200 words, which is considerably less than the disclosure statements of the majority of other businesses we considered in this roundup. And African Ancestry promises to destroy your DNA sample after your test results are delivered.
Even if you accept the firm's view on tribal and ethnic genetic markers, African Ancestry remains too expensive to recommend at its current price.
What you need to know about DNA testing.
If you're using a home DNA testing service, you should be looking for one of three things:
Ancestry and family history: The first benefit of a full DNA test is that you'll get ancestry and ethnicity breakdowns, as well as the migration patterns of your common brethren. Your ethnicity may be different than you think it is. Spoiler alert: Your etiquette may not be the same as yours. You'll also learn what a haplogroup is.
Relative identification Some DNA services will allow you to communicate with distant relatives you never knew you had -- other individuals with similar DNA who have used the service and have likewise given their permission to connect to possible relatives -- with your consent.
Health and disease info: DNA testing can also reveal which conditions for which you may have a preponderance. To be sure, it's a controversial feature. Knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to varying forms of cancer may make you more vigilant for testing, but it may also increase stress -- worrying about if you're "genetically susceptible" to another health condition that may never develop, even unless you are genetically predisposed to it. The risk of false positives and false negatives abounds -- any such information should be discussed with your doctor before you act on it.
How DNA tests work
Afraid of needles and blood? That's not a problem with these tests. All the genetic information for these tests is in your saliva -- and you'll need to send the DNA sample to a laboratory for analysis.
Your DNA -- which is short for deoxyribonucleic acid -- is present in all of them, which makes it work equally well as saliva (or hair follicles or skin samples) because it is in them all. It's the basic genetic code in all of your cells that determines your most important traits, from the color of you eyes to the shape of the ears to how sensitive you are to cholesterol.
The following are the most important terms you need to know when comparing DNA testing services:
SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) Genotyping is accomplished by measuring genetic variation. SNP genotyping, which measures variations of a single nucleotide polymorphism, is one of the more common. The more of these a business measures, the more detailed the analysis will be.
Autosomal DNA testing: An autosomal test that's safe for both men and women and that trace lineage back through both maternal and paternal bloodlines.
Y-DNA The Y-DNA test is only for men and traced DNA back through patrilineal ancestry -- from father to grandfather to great grandfather, etc.
mtDNA The mtDNA is monolineal and allows you to trace your ancestry back to your mother, grandmother, great grandmother and so on.
More DNA advice
- AncestryDNA taught me a lot about DNA, privacy, and the complicated world of genetic testing.
- Scientists are uncovering the mysteries behind whole-body DNA regeneration.
- In the future, not even your DNA will be sacred.
- How sharing your DNA prevents horrible crimes... and sparks a privacy debate.
- This DNA test for cats may uncover Mr. Whiskers' genetic secrets.
David Gewirtz contributed to this report. The new version is a significant update on previous versions and includes hands-on experiences with most of the services listed.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for medical or dental advice. Consult a physician or other qualified health provider if you have any questions about severities or health goals.