All it takes is a simple at-home DNA test and you can learn all about your ancestry, medical predispositions, physical condition and more. It’s never been easier or more affordable to try one out if you’re curious. There are multiple different DNA tests out there right now that can teach you all about yourwithout even having to go to a doctor’s office. Below, we’ll break down the best DNA test options on the market so you can find the one that will work best for you.
Though it’s a thorny and controversial topic, some tests also claim to reveal your “ethnicity.” There are also DNA test services that can shed light on your genetic predisposition for diseases and physiological traits, ranging from your eye color to your tolerance for cilantro.
While they used to cost about $1,000 back in the 2000s, you can now get a sophisticated DNA data analysis of your genetic makeup for a fraction of that price, thanks to trailblazers such asand , and upstarts like .
There are three types of DNA tests — each with its own particular strengths, limitations and rationales.
- An autosomal DNA test is the best investment for most beginners; it can identify relatives between five and seven generations back, across both maternal and paternal lines.
- Only men can effectively use a Y-DNA test, which identifies male relatives on the paternal line reaching back 60,000 years. If you’re looking to trace the history of your family’s surname, this is the test to use.
- Mitochondrial DNA testing, also known as mtDNA testing, can determine genetic relationships on a maternal line from up to 150,000 years ago; both men and women can take this type of test.
Each testing company will give you an analysis of your DNA test results. These results could include 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 your susceptibility to particular genetic diseases. We should note that these tests don’t serve a diagnostic purpose. A doctor-administered genetic test and a follow-up with a genetic counselor is important if you think you have a genetic disease. No online testing company offering results from a saliva sample can substitute for a health test administered by your doctor.
Certain companies will also serve up “matches” from their DNA databases, which will give you a head start on connecting with possible relatives and offer some degree of family-tree research support. AncestryDNA, for example, offers a subscription service that includes access to hundreds of databases containing birth, death and marriage announcements, census documents, newspaper archives and other historical records.
Some DNA companies sell tests designed for specific ethnicities or specialized kits that claim to shed light on your optimal skin care regimen or weight; others offer tests designed to identify the genetic makeup of your cat or dog. (Yes, you can get a dog DNA test.) The experts I spoke to were dubious of the efficacy and value of these tests, however, and recommended avoiding them.
Though there’s no blood involved with modern DNA testing — 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 supplying highly personal information about yourself and your relatives, from your genetic data to your mother’s maiden name (a traditional cornerstone of password security).
Concerns over data privacy and security are well-founded, and experts warn that regulation, , lags far behind the technology. You should also know that some DNA testing companies and . Bottom line: Think critically before volunteering information about your health history and familial connections to any DNA testing company or organization.
DNA testing, and genealogy more broadly, involves a complicated mixture of genetics, probabilities and guesswork. The various DNA testing services use different labs, algorithms, equipment and criteria to analyze your genetic material. Although you should expect some degree of overlap between analyses from different companies, they may differ significantly. There’s also an element of critical mass — the larger the company’s database, the larger the sample they use to analyze your results, and the more accurate your test result should be.
We tried some of the top DNA testing services, assessing the breadth and depth of their offerings, methodologies, reputation and price. Take a look at our recommendations below.
Founded in Utah in the 1990s, Ancestry.com — the parent company of AncestryDNA — started out as a publishing and genealogy company. Since then, it has had a somewhat tumultuous corporate existence, having been bought, sold, publicly traded and then purchased by private equity groups.
The company’s basic DNA kit service provides you with an “ethnicity estimate” derived from its proprietary sequencing techniques. It’s noteworthy that the company’s genetic testing, which is outsourced to Quest Diagnostics, is distinct from most other companies that use paternal Y chromosome and/or maternal mitochondrial DNA methodologies, and less is known about the particular criteria it uses.
That noted, AncestryDNA says its database contains more than 18 million profiles, making it the largest of all of the DNA test kit services. The company also maintains a powerful tool for searching through hundreds of historical document databases — but any substantive research will quickly bring you to a paywall. Ancestry’s databases are further bolstered by its partnership with FamilySearch.org, a genealogical records site run by the Mormon church.
An entry-level membership, which provides access to more than 6 billion records in the US, costs $119 for six months or $25 per month, after a free two-week trial. The “World Explorer” membership, for $40 per month, broadens your access to the company’s 27 billion international records, and the “All Access” tier, starting at $60 per month, includes unlimited access to 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 map your family’s health over generations and a next-generation sequencing service for screening your genetic risk for heart disease, some cancers and blood disorders. Still, the results are not diagnostic — though the test result must be approved by one of the company’s physicians — and the service does not have FDA approval. For now, 23andMe maintains the advantage when it comes to introductory DNA testing for health risks and genetic screening. But AncestryDNA’s service is particularly well-suited for leveraging an introductory DNA analysis into deep historical research to build out a family tree.
AncestryDNA allows you to download your full DNA results profile and upload the raw data into other tools, and it provides reasonably good control over your privacy preferences, though the options are not as granular as others.