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23andMe, named for the 23 chromosome pairs in human DNA, is a research-focused company that enables its users to get insight into their ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits.
Established in 2006 at Mountain View California, it has grown to be one of the most popular DNA services currently on the market, with an estimated 10 million users. It has been at the forefront of developments in DNA testing. It was the first company to utilize autosomal DNA testing, which is now the method of most of the other major DNA testing companies.
With scientific practices being developed all the time, 23andMe is arguably the most thorough and accurate service available to date.
Pros and Cons
- Easy to collect your sample and free to send it back.
- 1500 different regions included.
- Additionally, tests your mtDNA and yDNA.
- A wide variety of reports offered.
- Includes a free traits report as part of the package.
- More expensive than some options.
- Smaller database than some of its competitors.
Collecting your DNA Sample
Ordering your kit couldn’t be simpler. You select which reports you would like to have access to complete your purchase. The DNA collection kit is shipped to you at no extra cost, within one business day of the purchase date.
Each kit includes:
- Easy to follow picture instructions showing each of the steps
- A saliva collection tube
- A funnel lid
- A tube cap
- A specimen bag
The first thing that you need to do, before providing the sample, is to register the kit online. This involves inputting the information included on the collection tube onto the website under your account details. This is important for ensuring that the lab knows who the sample belongs to.
The saliva collection, which is how you provide your DNA sample, is a straightforward process. You need to spit into the funnel, again and again, to fill the tube up to the indicated line. Once you have done this, you then close the funnel lid to release the protector fluid, switch out this lid for the cap, and then give the tube a good shake for five seconds.
You then seal the tube inside the specimen bag, put it back in the postage-paid box, and ship it back to the lab.
How Fast Do Results Come Back?
The results usually take around three to five weeks to come back, and you will be able to track the progress of your sample while you wait. If you have opted for the VIP package, your results will be fast-tracked.
This is a fairly standard turnaround time for this type of test. Some companies may offer a quicker service, but they will usually be including fewer tests in the results.
What do the Results Include?
What is included in your results varies depending on the reports that you have selected. 23andMe currently offers three different packages for its customers to choose from.
The cheapest and most option is priced at $99; this option is the Ancestry + Traits service. This includes 50+ reports on ancestry, with details such as ancestry composition and maternal/paternal haplogroup, and 30+ reports on traits like food preferences and hair texture color.
The latter reports provide an indication of genetic susceptibility to specific characteristics. It is widely recognized that lifestyle and environment play a large part in the development of individual traits.
A step up from this is the Health + Ancestry option at $199. The reasons for the hefty price jump are clear to see because as well as the above reports, this package further includes 10+ reports on health disposition, 5+ reports on wellness, 40+ reports on carrier status.
This covers everything from how at-risk you are of developing certain health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, to whether you are likely to be a carrier of heritable illnesses like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. It even mentions how certain aspects of your environment, such as alcohol or caffeine, might be impacting your present health.
The final one is the VIP service for $499. This covers all of the reports from both services above. It also includes various extras such as priority lab processing, premium customer support, and a personalized walkthrough of your results.
It’s also good to note that if you do opt for the basic service, you can bump it up to the second option, even after receiving your results. Doing this will cost an additional $125. On doing this, you will immediately be able to access the extra reports.
Overall the reports are clearly set out and nicely illustrated.
The Ancestry Report makes use of a map to indicate the regions of the world that your ancestors are from. It backs that up with statistical data showing the percentage of your DNA linked to that part of the world, e.g., 30% European, 20% Western Asia and North Africa.
Underneath, it further breaks this down by region. So, for example, it may state southern European or East African for much more specific results.
In addition to this, you are provided with a nicely-organized timeline that shows how far back in time, you are linked to that population. For instance, Native America ancestors might date from between 1690-1780.
At the end of the report, they include your Chromosome Painting. A color key is used to highlight the specific areas of your DNA that are associated with each part of your heritage. The company provides helpful links throughout the report to help you with interpreting the different information in front of you.
The Traits Reports gives you some, mostly fun facts about yourself, such as your ice cream preference or what time you usually wake up in the morning. It then draws a comparison with the rest of the population (from its database), so you can see how common that particular trait is. It also offers some interesting and educational facts about the feature and what scientists know about how it links to DNA.
And with the second package…
The Health Reports are also clearly set out for a better understanding of the information. They provide information about your risk level for multiple conditions and some necessary other details. As well as this, key warnings remind you that genetics doesn’t always give the full picture when it comes to illness and disease.
The Wellness Reports are helpful in passing along some tips based on any issues or weaknesses that may have been detected. So, for instance, it has some useful suggestions for your diet and exercise routines to help you in maintaining optimum health.
Finally, the Carrier Status Reports essentially have the same format at the Health Reports. They indicate whether you do and do not have the associated variants for many different kinds of heritable conditions.
How does 23andMe Protect Your Privacy?
23andMe protects your privacy in a variety of ways. Firstly, through meaningful choice, which puts you in control of your information. You will need to provide your explicit consent before any of your information will be shared with third parties or used for research purposes.
Secondly, your account with them is password-protected, and only you will have access to it unless you choose to share it with anyone. Alongside this, all of the additional services which may link you to other users are opt-in. You decide if you want to be a part of them.
Matching with Relatives
Your account’s additional Relatives feature connects you with people who share similar DNA. It also indicates the closeness of your genetic match to show the extent of your relationship with one another. You can even get in touch with people that you are connected to.
Building on this, the Family Tree feature automatically creates an illustrated portrait of your extended DNA relatives.
However, when it comes to discovering connections, AncestryDNA has the advantage of having a more extensive database – so you have a higher chance of making more connections with them. MyHeritage DNA, on the other hand, has more registered customers outside of the USA, for Americans wanting to make connections in Europe and the rest of the world.
Pricewise, 23andMe sits right next to its strongest competitor AncestryDNA, firmly in the middle of the market. Its health package is slightly more expensive than some – although it does offer significantly more information than all the others.
There are various cheaper DNA testing options available. MyHeritage DNA costs $69 for the basic ancestry package. It also gets your results to you more quickly. However, they have a much smaller database of DNA, making the results less accurate.
You also need to cover the cost of shipping the box back to Houston, Texas, which brings the price up somewhat depending on where you are based.
Also, compared with lower-priced services, 23andMe boasts being able to track your ancestry across 1500 regions for greater accuracy and specificity. AncestryDNA, by comparison, only offers 500 areas. Yet, overall accuracy may be improved by AncestryDNA’s more extensive database of DNA.
One other area that AncestryDNA falls down on, though, is that it only runs the autosomes test and doesn’t look at mtDNA and yDNA. With this information, matrilineal and patrilineal lines of your ancestors can be traced.
However, only the matrilineal line can be traced in females due to the lack of yDNA in their genetic makeup. With this information, you can better understand the details of your more ancient ancestors.
Family Tree DNA also offers this service, albeit at a much higher price. The yDNA package is $169, and the mtDNA is $199. With this in mind, 23andMe’s most basic service is a bargain at $99, with all of this already included.
Some further key options included with 23andMe, but not with these other companies, is the ability to opt in to hear about any new health reports available due to continuing research in this area.
Also, as 23andMe is directly involved with this type of research, you, too, can participate at this level by releasing the details of your DNA for this purpose and answering intermittent questionnaires about your health, lifestyle, etc.
23andMe offers several distinct advantages over its leading competitors.
Although it is currently the second most popular DNA testing service after AncestryDNA, it provides its customers with more extensive information on their genetic heritage, ancient ancestors, and traits. With its 1500 regions, it can also give more specific details about the exact locations of ancestors.
The health package is also particularly highly rated among the company’s customers, and the option to support genetic research is well received.
Overall, while certainly not the budget option, 23andMe simply seems to offer its customers more bang for their buck than other DNA testing services currently on the market.