Quick Facts:

  • Pricing: $99-199
  • Tests: Ancestry, Health + Ancestry
  • Wait Time: 2-4 weeks
  • Database size: 1 Million
  • Collection Method: Saliva

When it comes to finding out who you really are, it can be a good idea to send in a DNA sample and learn about your ancestry on a deeper level. This can be a good idea for people who’ve been adopted and wonder who their parents might have been. It can also be a great idea for those who have questions about their origins going back even further. This testing might benefit those who have questions about their ancestry because of concerns over certain genetic conditions.

Many people might wonder why it’s necessary to look back at the past, but genetics play an important part of people’s lives regardless of who they are. Some genetic markers can indicate the likelihood of developing certain diseases. The negative impact of these diseases could be mitigated by people having a good idea of their individual genetic map. The more a person knows about his or her ancestry, the better he or she will know who they are.

One of the more popular companies that offers DNA and genetic testing is 23andMe. The very name the company chose is tied to the 23 chromosomes that determine a person’s genetic code. 23andMe has been in existence since 2006, and the company was a pioneer in giving genetic testing interpretation to individual consumers. As far back as 2007, it began providing DNA tests directly to consumers. In the years since, 23andMe has increased its knowledge of the field of genetics and is continually able to provide more and more information related to DNA and genetics for its customers.

The company has a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to use DNA and genetic testing results from 5 million customers to produce new medicines that can treat specific genetic conditions. Currently, 23andMe is the first and only genetic testing service that offers reports that meet FDA standards, and this status can provide another level of credibility for its service.

Genetics are very complicated, and knowledge of the field is growing daily. DNA includes 3 billion letters that are arranged in 23 different chromosomes. This DNA is arranged around approximately 20,000 different genes. The testing offered by 23andMe attempts to make this vast amount of information understandable on the level of the individual customer and what it means for their lives.

Pricing/Cost of 23andMe DNA Testing

23andMe offers two packages that provide a couple of different levels of service. The first is the basic Ancestry Service, which comes with a price tag of $99. This option provides only DNA testing that shows where the DNA in a person’s ancestors from the past came from. The second option, the Health + Ancestry Service, is more robust. This option costs $199 and provides genetic testing that looks for a number of important health markers.

If you purchase the basic Ancestry Service and decide you want to upgrade to the Ancestry + Health Service later on, you’ll have to pay a $125 fee. This is $25 more than you’d pay by purchasing both reports right off the bat. If you think that you might ever want to learn more about how your genetics might impact your health, you would likely be better off just buying the upgraded package right off the bat as long as you have the money available to do so. If you don’t have the money at present, knowing that you can upgrade later can give you some comfort. As long as 23andMe has your DNA profile, it should be relatively easy for the company to run the additional tests and provide the associated reports.

Refund Policy

Customers of 23andMe can request a refund if they change their mind on going through with DNA testing. The request for a refund must be made within the first 30 days after placement of an order. Additionally, customers must confirm that they’ve not yet shipped out the saliva sample for processing. If you decide to cancel your entire order, you’d need to complete an online form. Those who only want to cancel a part of an order would need to contact Customer Care. Any applicable refund would be equal to the purchase price less any charges incurred for shipping and handling.

Why Use 23andMe?

Many people wonder where they’ve come from. Genealogical records can only go back so far, and in many instances, the records can be somewhat sporadic and incomplete. Some people would not have the benefit of many genealogical records because their ancestors moved from their ancestral homelands under duress or through the institution of slavery. Additionally, those who have been adopted will frequently want to learn about their birth family.

Sometimes, this desire will come from people wanting to know their relatives and reconnect. At other points, it might come from a need to know a genetic profile to learn about the likelihood they will carry certain disease or to learn about why they might have developed a certain disease. Regardless of the part of the world people come from, most want to have a good idea of where their ancestors came from. The DNA testing that’s available through 23andMe can provide people who might be unsure of their ancestry the answers they’re looking for.

Additionally, there are many people who carry genetic markers that make it more likely that they will develop certain diseases. Even those who do not develop the diseases themselves could pass them down to their offspring. Having this information can help people make informed decisions when it comes to family planning. Those who are at a high risk of passing a genetic defect down to their potential children may choose to adopt or not to have children altogether.

Another reason why people might want to take a DNA test is to figure out who they are related to. With so much migration in the modern world, many families have no idea as to who their extended relatives might be. There is an opt-in feature with 23andMe that allows people to contact people who are related through their DNA profiles. With the prevalence of artificial insemination increasing over time, more people will want to get a DNA report to avoid relationships with close relatives. Close relatives are more likely to carry similar genetic conditions that make it more likely they will pass down these issues down to their children. A genetic profile from 23andMe will again help people get the answers they need to make informed decisions.

One benefit that’s fairly unique for users of 23andMe when compared to some of the leading competitors is the ability to use funds from a health savings account or flexible spending account to pay for part of the testing. Generally, the cost of the health component of the test should be eligible for HSA or FSA reimbursement. This would include the genetic testing that’s intended to learn whether a customer or any dependents are carriers of certain genetic conditions. The IRS will likely consider these expenses as health-related expenses. 23andMe recommends on its website that customers check with a tax professional or benefits coordinator so that they can confirm which parts of the testing are eligible for reimbursement through an HSA or FSA.

23andMe DNA Collection Process

The DNA collection process through 23andMe is quite simple and painless. If you’re looking to have your ancestry tested by 23andMe, you first need to order one of its DNA collection kits. As noted above, there are two testing options available. Once the kit is ordered, it should arrive at the specified address within three to five days although there is an option for express shipping that will get the kit to you a little more quickly. After receiving the kit, a user simply needs to spit into the tube that comes with the kit. This tube will be sealed, and the tube and saliva sample should be returned to 23andMe where its lab will run the DNA and genetic tests that you’ve paid for.

Waiting Period for 23andMe Testing

There is, as noted above, a wait of between three and five days to get the kit from the company as long as you opt for standard shipping. After you’ve provided a saliva sample, you’ll have to mail the completed kit back to 23andMe. After you mail it, it’s up to the shipping service and 23andMe to get your results back to you. The company’s website says that you should get an email within three and five weeks that will let you know your results are available. Once you receive this email, you should be able to log into your account and access the online report that 23andMe has provided through its analysis of your DNA.

The process of getting DNA results is not terribly lengthy. Given the time frame provided by 23andMe, most people should receive their results between four and six weeks after initially ordering a kit. This includes time for the kit to ship to the customer, time for the customer to spit into the tube that’s provided, time for the tube to get back to 23andMe and time for the actual DNA testing. Of course, failure to ship the tube back in a timely fashion could delay the results a given customer might receive.

Specific Results of 23andMe Testing

As noted above, people who send in a saliva sample to 23andMe can expect to see the results of their DNA profile within three to five weeks. Therefore, in about a month, as person will get a report that will tell many things about their ancestry. The Ancestry Service will provide reports on:

  • The geographic region a person’s DNA comes from
  • The specific DNA family
  • Maternal and Paternal halpogroups
  • Neanderthal ancestry
  • DNA relative finder

The geographic DNA family report will tell what percentage of a person’s DNA came from a specific region of the world.

Those who opt for the Ancestry + Health Service will get a variety of genetic reports in addition to those listed above. These include health predisposition reports that identify genes that could make the following diseases more likely:

  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration
  • Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
  • BRCA1/BRCA2 (Selected Variants)
  • Celiac Disease
  • Familial Hypercholesterolemia
  • G6PD Deficiency
  • Hereditary Amyloidosis (TTR-Related)
  • Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HFE‑Related)
  • Hereditary Thrombophilia
  • Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • MUTYH-Associated Polyposis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes (Powered by 23andMe Research)

Another report that’s available with the Ancestry + Health Service will give information related to:

  • Alcohol Flush Reaction
  • Caffeine Consumption
  • Deep Sleep
  • Genetic Weight
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Muscle Composition
  • Saturated Fat and Weight
  • Sleep Movement

Yet another report that will come with the Ancestry + Health package is a genetic carrier report. This might be the report that users will find of most use. It looks at whether you might be a carrier of more than 40 different diseases. New tests are available over time as research goes further, but the genetic carrier reports currently check for:

  • ARSACS
  • Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum with Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease
  • Beta Thalassemia and Related Hemoglobinopathies
  • Bloom Syndrome
  • Canavan Disease
  • Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation Type 1a (PMM2-CDG)
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • D-Bifunctional Protein Deficiency
  • Dihydrolipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency
  • Familial Dysautonomia
  • Familial Hyperinsulinism (ABCC8-Related)
  • Familial Mediterranean Fever
  • Fanconi Anemia Group C
  • GRACILE Syndrome
  • Gaucher Disease Type 1
  • Glycogen Storage Disease Type Ia
  • Glycogen Storage Disease Type Ib
  • Hereditary Fructose Intolerance
  • Herlitz Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (LAMB3-Related)
  • Leigh Syndrome, French Canadian Type
  • Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2D
  • Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2E
  • Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2I
  • MCAD Deficiency
  • Maple Syrup Urine Disease Type 1B
  • Mucolipidosis Type IV
  • Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CLN5-Related)
  • Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (PPT1-Related)
  • Niemann-Pick Disease Type A
  • Nijmegen Breakage Syndrome
  • Nonsyndromic Hearing Loss and Deafness, DFNB1 (GJB2-Related)
  • Pendred Syndrome and DFNB4 Hearing Loss (SLC26A4-Related)
  • Phenylketonuria and Related Disorders
  • Primary Hyperoxaluria Type 2
  • Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata Type 1
  • Salla Disease
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Sjögren-Larsson Syndrome
  • Tay-Sachs Disease
  • Tyrosinemia Type I
  • Usher Syndrome Type 1F
  • Usher Syndrome Type 3A
  • Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum (PEX1-Related)

This genetic carrier report offers information on the different variants of the listed genetic conditions. Some have only one variant while others have three or four. A few have 10 or more. One disease, cystic fibrosis, has 29 separate variants that 23andMe tests for. 23andMe offers in-depth genetic testing that can provide people with the information they need to make solid decisions and to prepare for the possibility of developing certain genetic conditions.

A final series of reports that’s offered by 23andMe is the Physical Traits report. This particular report will look at a person’s DNA and genetic profile to come up with certain physical characteristics that are common among people with a similar profile. There are more than 30 different traits listed in the report as of the writing of this review. These include:

  • Ability to Match Musical Pitch
  • Asparagus Odor Detection
  • Back Hair (available for men only)
  • Bald Spot (available for men only)
  • Bitter Taste
  • Bunions
  • Cheek Dimples
  • Cilantro Taste Aversion
  • Cleft Chin
  • Dandruff
  • Earlobe Type
  • Early Hair Loss (available for men only)
  • Earwax Type
  • Eye Color
  • Fear of Heights
  • Fear of Public Speaking
  • Finger Length Ratio
  • Flat Feet
  • Freckles
  • Hair Photobleaching (hair lightening from the sun)
  • Hair Texture
  • Hair Thickness
  • Ice Cream Flavor Preference
  • Light or Dark Hair
  • Misophonia (hatred of the sound of chewing)
  • Mosquito Bite Frequency
  • Motion Sickness
  • Newborn Hair
  • Photic Sneeze Reflex
  • Red Hair
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Stretch Marks
  • Sweet vs. Salty
  • Toe Length Ratio
  • Unibrow
  • Wake-Up Time
  • Widow’s Peak

It’s interesting that some of these conditions like flat feet and dandruff are tied to genetic markers. If you’ve wondered why you have certain physical characteristics that are not tied to a specific ethnic group, a genetic test from 23andMe could answer many of these questions.

In-Depth Review of Specific Features

The specific features a person will access through 23andMe are based upon the specific service he or she decides to purchase. The two services, as noted above, are the Ancestry Service and the Ancestry + Health Service. The specific features of each is discussed with more depth below.

Ancestry Service

The Ancestry Service provided by 23andMe allows customers to see where they’ve come from. The company claims that it has narrowed down more than 1,000 geographic locations that its customers have come from. The tests will show where a customer’s ancestors were living hundreds of years ago by tracing their DNA through several generations. It’s possible to show when a certain strain of DNA entered each family through the testing provided by the Ancestry Service.

The Ancestry Service can also tell where a person’s ancestry moved hundreds of years ago. Additionally, the Ancestry Service from 23andMe will trace both the maternal and paternal halpogroups, which are groups of people who lived in the distant past and migrated together from Africa. It can also test for Neanderthal DNA. There are certain physical characteristics tied to certain percentages of Neanderthal DNA. 23andMe can isolate whether a person has this DNA in their ancestry and the percentage of its prevalence. After going through the DNA ancestry testing, 23andMe provides users the option of reaching out to other customers who share the same DNA. This final benefit requires the user to opt in. Those who do not opt to access this information are excluded for privacy reasons.

Health + Ancestry Service

The Health + Ancestry Service provides the same ancestry information that’s provided by the Ancestry Service, but it also goes further. The Health + Ancestry Service provides a great deal of health information that can allow people to take proactive steps to take care of themselves. Genetics can provide indicators that show who might be more likely to develop certain conditions and illnesses.

The Health + Ancestry Service provides a number of specific health reports for customers that allow them to assess their risks. There are more than 10 Health Disposition reports. These check for genetic markers that indicate a particular customer has a heightened risk for Type 2 Diabetes, Celiac Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and others. The service also currently offers more than five Wellness reports that look at such factors as lactose intolerance, genetic weight, caffeine consumption and muscle composition.

Perhaps the most important reports that come form the Health + Ancestry Service are the Carrier Status reports. This service checks customers for more than 40 genetic conditions that can lead to severe health problems for carriers and their prospective children. Most carriers will not have the illness, but they have a chance of passing a genetic condition down to their children. This becomes more pronounced if their spouse also carries the same gene. Some of the more significant tests look into whether 23andMe customers are carriers of genes that might lead to cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. There are many others that are tied to specific ethnic groups from certain geographic regions.

Finally, the testing from 23andMe allows users to find out how likely they are to carry certain physical characteristics. These are also tied to genetics. The characteristics can be as mundane as hair color, the likelihood of male pattern baldness, freckles or a unibrow. These reports are just one more step in the process of learning how your genes affect who you might happen to be.

23andMe is continuously building a database of the human genome. As noted above, this is leading to some pretty exciting research. A partnership with GlaxoSmithKline is working with the information 23andMe offers to research genetic diseases. Hopefully, new drugs to alleviate the symptoms of some of these genetic conditions will be the fruit of these efforts.

One of the more interesting features of DNA and genetic testing with 23andMe is the DNA Relatives feature. This feature allows users to detect relatives based upon the amount of DNA two separate customers share. Those who share more DNA would be closer relatives. Those who share less would not show up as relatives who have a common ancestor within the last nine generations. The accuracy of the DNA Relatives feature is discussed below.

Accuracy of 23andMe

23andMe goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the accuracy of its DNA Relatives feature. All humans share more than 99% of their DNA. That means there will be differences in only 1% of the DNA that allows labs to trace relations. 23andMe lists how accurate they are in detecting cousins. For first cousins, the company claims an accuracy rate of nearly 100%. The number is still claimed to be more than 99% accurate for second cousins. There is a big drop in estimated accuracy between third and fourth cousins from around 90% to around 45%. For sixth cousins, there is a probability of less than 5% that a test will reveal a genetic relation.

The company’s site also looks into the average DNA relatives will share. For example, identical twins share 100% of their DNA. Full siblings who are not identical twins and parents and children will share, on average, 50% of their DNA. The numbers only decrease from there. First cousins would, on average, share about 12.5% of their DNA. For sixth cousins, the amount of DNA shared averages around 0.01%. This is the reason for the declining accuracy for discovering distant relatives. 23andMe does claim to be able to differentiate between full and half siblings, as the DNA shared would drop from 50% for full siblings to 25% for half siblings because they share only one common parent.

The DNA Relatives feature only looks at people who are related within the last nine generations. The site notes that all humans are related when looking back far enough into history. The site looks into the DNA strands that are common between people. All humans will share small segments of DNA with other humans. Those who are more closely related will share longer segments of the DNA strand. This is the method that 23andMe uses to detect relatives although the site notes that the test is not always 100% accurate. The company uses a threshold of seven centiMorgans (a measurement for genetic links) and at least 700 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms for determining relations. Those who do not meet this standard do not show up in the Relatives feature even though they might actually be blood relations.

23andMe’s Privacy Policy

23andMe discusses its privacy policy quite effectively regarding the collection and use of information. Regarding the collection of information, the site uses web-tracking technology like cookies when people visit and use the site. Additionally, those who open an account share their personal information directly with 23andMe. Finally, those who provide a DNA sample consent to allowing the company to analyze their genetic information and produce a report.

23andMe uses the information it collects from users to provide the services it offers. This includes third-party activity such as shipping services and processing payments. It also includes the information users provide in setting up their accounts. Additionally, those who use 23andMe will have their information utilized to improve the service the company provides for its users. This might include allowing the company to use the information it collects to improve marketing campaigns or the user experience on its website. Users can also consent to have their self-reported information and de-identified genetic information utilized in genetic research. This information would be aggregated with similar information from other users of the 23andMe service.

23andMe promises to secure its users’ information under several circumstances that are not covered under the situations listed above. For example, no information will be shared with public databases, nor will 23andMe share information with any insurance companies or employers. Finally, law enforcement and regulatory agencies are included in this list of groups that will not receive personal information from 23andMe. However, there is an important caveat. If a governmental agency has a court order, warrant or subpoena, 23andMe will comply with those legal requirements.

User information is protected through several layers of security measures with 23andMe. Registration information gets stripped from any sensitive information on the database. This includes genetic data, which receives a random ID number in order to protect the identity of the person who provided this data. 23andMe also uses software that encrypts information that is both stored and transmitted over the site. Additionally, the company limits access to its site and user data through multi-factor authentication and single sign-on. Furthermore, the company uses intrusion detection and prevention measures that are considered state of the art. 23andMe also uses third-party entities to test the security of the site against such malicious penetration attempts.

The 23andMe privacy page informs its users of the possibility of data breaches. While the company takes precautions to protect information for users, data breaches do take place, and the information provided by users could be used for nefarious purposes. Additionally, the company notes that some users may find out information regarding their relations or themselves that could be troubling. It is not spelled out, but this would likely involve a person finding out they are related to people who have done troubling things or a person learning they may have a genetic condition that could cause major health problems although a positive test result does not necessarily mean a person will develop a given genetic disease should they have a positive result for a given genetic marker. Additionally, some users might find that people they thought were relatives are not actually related to them.

23andMe notes that it takes the privacy of children seriously. Its Privacy Statement notes that the service is not intended for users who are under 18 years of age. However, it notes that parents or guardians of children who have not reached 18 years old can collect saliva samples and create accounts for their minor children. In this instance, the parent or guardian assumes responsibility for the security and accuracy of the child’s data.

23andMe participates in the major Privacy Shield Frameworks. These are set up between the EU and the US and Switzerland and the US. These frameworks have been set up by the US Department of Commerce and relate to personal information that is transferred between these regions.

Like the other major home-based DNA collection companies, 23andMe reserves the right to change its Privacy Statement at any time. However, it promises to provide a 30-day notice to its users of any material changes that are about to be made. These notices will be posted on the company’s website and via emails to its users before the change is made.

Conclusions

Among the major individual DNA services available, 23andMe has one of the most robust offerings. Not only does 23andMe provide DNA testing that can help people learn about their ancestry and their relatives, the company also offers to provide a great deal of information related to many physical traits and genetic conditions that a person might exhibit as a result of their individual DNA profile.

The company takes its customers’ privacy seriously, and it has put into place measures that are intended to protect that privacy. It should be noted that no DNA test is completely accurate, and those who use 23andMe to learn about any genetic conditions they may carry should remember that it is not a given that they will develop the diseases that might be associated with markers that show up in their genetic profiles.

The testing that 23andMe is quite affordable when compared to some of the other major options like AncestryDNA or FamilyTreeDNA. This is especially the case when looking at the additional genetic testing that’s available through 23andMe. The basic Ancestry service is a cost-effective option for people who want to learn about their heritage. When it comes to the services provided, 23andMe is quite advanced, and it is a good choice for those who want to learn about their genetic profile on a deeper level.