23andMe delivers a trove of details about both your personal genetics along with your deeper Ancestry. As a result, this top DNA testing agency also looks for genetic health threats, as well as your carrier standing for several conditions. It’s perhaps the most well-known, at-home genetic test, named after the 23 chromosomes in a normal human cell. Below is our master review of the 23andMe DNA kit:
Like many of its competitors, 23andMe employs the oldest technology, called SNP genotype testing. SNP, short for single nucleotide polymorphism, is the spelling variations of DNA. For $199, 23andMe examines about 690,000 predetermined SNPs. These SNPs, also known as mutations, can both directly lead to specific diseases and indirectly contribute to various health risks. Read more about inherited disease here, and what a genetic test can reveal.
For $199, and a simple saliva sample, 23andMe examines about 690,000 predetermined SNPs.
23andMe Company Details
23andMe has a lot going for it, racking up some decisive advantages over their competitors. They are:
- The first and largest DNA collection company in the world
- The only consumer DNA collection company that is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- The first company to offer autosomal DNA testing for ancestry
- The only consumer DNA company to offer BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variant testing for breast cancer risk
|Sample Collection:||Spit tube|
|DNA testing type:||Autosomal, mtDNA, YDNA (all three types)|
|Speed:||3-5 weeks (mine took 16 days)|
|Privacy Protection:||Strong (jump to section)|
How much does 23andMe cost?
- 39 Ancestry Reports
- 1000+ regions shown
- Relative Finder
- Health Reports
- Gene Carrier Reports
- Trait Reports
- Access Raw Data at any Time
- 10% off each additional
- Updated Regularly
What is in the box
The 23andMe DNA kit contains the following in the box:
- DNA saliva collection kit with stabilizing liquid lid attached
- Lid for collection tube
- Collection bag
- Return shipping box and label
Send in Steps
Once you receive your kit, sending in your sample is pretty simple with 23andMe. The steps are:
- Register your kit. If you already have an account with 23andMe, you should be able to enter your 14 digit activation code reasonably quickly. If you don’t have an account, you can create one and add the activation code easily.
- Do not eat or drink for 30 minutes.
- Spit into the collection tube until it reaches the fill line to complete the saliva sample. This line is deceiving – there is a false bottom to the collection tube; it requires less liquid than it looks.
- Close the funnel lid. This will break the seal and allow the stabilizing liquid to mix with your spit.
- Take the funnel lid off, and screw on the cap. Shake for at least 5 seconds.
- Put it in the collection bag and seal it.
- Finally, put it in the return box and put it in the mailbox.
Your data is relatively secure with 23andMe. Recently, 23andMe made honor roll for privacy and security. 23andMe complies with GDPR, which means they are held to a high standard for privacy in Europe. If you are particularly worried about it, you can use a pseudonym when registering, so the company doesn’t know who is taking the test.
23andMe has stated that they have received requests from law enforcement 5 times, and each of those times has resisted giving the request and not complied with giving law enforcement the data. Given the uncertainties that can arise around genetic testing, security has been a pillar of their business and is all but guaranteed to their 3 million customers.
23andMe’s main competition is Ancestry.com, Living DNA, MyHeritage, and several other smaller competitors. While 23andMe is the only FDA approved DNA test kit and the only one to offer Health + Ancestry information. 23andMe also offers Mother and Fatherline information (LivingDNA does this, but doesn’t provide health).
After processing your DNA, 23andMe sends you an email with your reports:
Once inside of your reports, there are 2 main places of interest. Ancestry and Health.
Currently (05/2019), 23andMe offers 39 Ancestry reports. You can see your estimated genetic breakdown, complete with a map. It’s important to realize that these are estimations and not your exact ancestry.
Other reports of interest include:
- the neanderthal report (how much of your ancestry can be traced back to Neanderthals)
- Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups (following your mother and father’s lines and their stories)
- Your DNA family (where your connections are and some of their traits)
These reports are interesting for surface level glances, but you can also dive into the research on how they determine items like this. For many people, these results will be nothing more than novelty and are primarily based on surveys of 23andMe customers.
Like AncestryDNA, 23andMe will look for DNA matches amongst its other members, but only if you opt-in. In the event you decide to utilize this attribute, which 23andMe calls DNA Relatives. You Can Receive e-mail alerts about possible connections and what their relationship to you may be. You can turn on open sharing to make certain particulars, such as your full name, accessible for other members. Should you leave this off, other users will need to send you an exchange request. You must have a display name; however – anonymous participation is no longer accessible, though initials are allowed.
You can add them as a connection and send messages if you want. 23andMe has the 2nd largest database (behind Ancestry.com), estimated at around 9 million.
One of the items 23andMe is famous for (other DNA testing companies don’t offer this), is their health reports. This includes your genetic risk factors, disease risks, and health conditions. 23andMe had to receive FDA approval to do this, and specific tests are not shown without the user taking a tutorial.
Historically, trained doctors received and interpreted these results, and something like BRCA1/BRCA2 (genes that have been found to increase someone’s chances of developing breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer) variant detection can be shocking to consumers. Moreover, it’s important to understand these variants don’t necessarily mean that you will end up with these diseases, only that you test positive for one of the variants. It’s best to share your results with your doctor as results should be confirmed before taking any actions.
23andMe offers the following health reports:
- Health predisposition – these are the reports that could have a bearing on your health later in life. Among other things, risk prediction for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Type 2 Diabetes, as well as 9 other predispositions. These results are some of the most actionable outcomes from a 23andMe test, without requiring follow-up with a medical professional. Therefore, predispositions can be combined with a family history of disease to develop educated lifestyle choices.
- Carrier Status – these are genetic variants that won’t affect your health, but could be something you pass on or have passed on to your children. 23andMe tests for 44 of these. Therefore, this can be especially helpful for those planning to become parents, or those having trouble conceiving. If positive for specific significant carrier mutations, follow-up should be pursued with a medical professional.
- Wellness – the reports with the most real-life application, these can give you insights on if you can process milk(lactose intolerance), genetic weight, sleep, caffeine, and several other reports. While many of these results may not surprise you, it may be interesting to know from where they arose. Hence, this section can be especially helpful for those struggling to find their perfect diet or exercise regimen.
- Traits – certainly the most fun report (in my opinion). These reports tell you if you are likely to go bald, smell asparagus, wake up time, and tons of other interesting reports. Consequently, it’s another largely novelty feature, but it is interesting to explore which strange traits might be genetic.
Downloadable raw data
Another considerable advantage provided by 23andMe is the ability to download the raw genetic data from your test. These are the notated mutations that underlie the reports and predictions seen above. For many people, this will be an uninteresting, and overwhelming, jumble of letters and numbers. However, if you’re one of those people that want to jump down the rabbit-hole of personalized health, the information contained in the raw data will be priceless.
23andMe provides all the materials for exploring the science and discussion surrounding specific mutations. While some companies only use proprietary indicators for the variants they test, 23andMe delivers in the format of rsID number. In other words, these are universal identifiers that can be cross-referenced against research studies and comprehensive databases. SNPedia, in particular, is a continually growing resource that links scientific findings to their respective rsIDs. As new research is completed, the pages are updated to reflect the latest results and correlations.
What to do with raw data
This universal application allows for frank discussions with genetic counselors or medical professionals. Similarly, it also allows for comparing and sharing your genetic data without requiring brand-specific notation or tools. This freedom has also given birth to brand new forums and communities on the internet. As a result, many are taking to the net to fill gaps in their knowledge, ask for guidance, and share their particular findings.
This informative feature ensures that you will always have access to your genetic data, regardless of the state of 23andMe in the near or distant future. Even more, with the constant flow of new information surrounding SNP research, you will always have the key to understanding the implications and relevance of new findings.
A question on many people’s minds – is the information you get from taking these tests accurate or useful?
23andMe allows you to change the confidence level while giving you your ancestry, so you can adjust how accurate they are. This is as useful as you want it to be. For someone like me, this was an interesting test, but certainly not life-changing, but someone who was adopted and didn’t know their parents might attribute different levels of usefulness to the information – it’s subjective.
The usefulness of the health info is a different situation. If you have predispositions, you should discuss these further with a licensed doctor – this could be beneficial information.
In the end, the wellness info could have varying levels of usefulness for different people. If, for instance, you took the DNA test and learned you processed caffeine slower than average, you might stop drinking coffee after 12:00, and it could change your life for the better. However, you have control over what you do with the information 23andMe provides.
As the first, biggest, and most well-known direct-to-consumer DNA testing company, 23andMe represents the best value for your money. Along with a plethora of health guidance, genetic screening, and novelty tidbits, a 23andMe DNA test is an excellent starting point for genetic testing. However, even given its strengths, it is still a fantastic idea to supplement or follow these tests with in-person hereditary genetic counseling and regular doctor visits.
The Ancestry results are comparable to Ancestry.com, and for a little bit more, you can access the Health service, which is probably one of the more exciting portions. Even more, 23andMe also doesn’t try to push a pricey monthly fee on you to access other parts of the service.
Above all, the site is simple to use, and help is easy to access. I found the whole process a great deal of fun. But, if you want to incorporate your results with a family tree, you’ll need to look to AncestryDNA, or export your DNA account and utilize another genealogy support.