Human DNA– short for deoxyribonucleic acid– is the molecule that makes you unique. In other words, it’s what tells your cells how to work and what kinds of proteins to make. Though all humans have the same type of DNA, nobody’s DNA is exactly identical to anyone else’s. In 2008, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that even identical twins have DNA differences. These DNA differences can reveal a lot about what makes us who we are. Various genes control not only our eye and hair color, but also how well we can carry a tune. Many of our emotional responses are influenced by our genes, as well.
For years, only law enforcement agencies, research groups and other similar organizations could afford to pay for DNA testing because technical limitations kept the price of DNA sequencing high. At one time, it cost over $100 million to sequence a single genome. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, that cost has fallen all the way down to just $1000 in recent years.
The dramatic drop in costs associated with DNA processing has given rise to a booming industry of consumer DNA testing services. Today’s DNA tests can do more than help you flesh out your family tree. Some can identify specific traits, potential medical risks and more.
Here are the best DNA tests you can buy:
- FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder test compares your DNA to the two million people that have submitted DNA samples to the company. Founded in 2000, FamilyTreeDNA was the first mover in the consumer DNA testing industry.
- If you opt to go with tellmeGen’s DNA Test Kit, you’ll find out important information about your health and get information about your ancestors. When new discoveries enable scientists to get more information out of your sample, you’ll get new information for free.
- MyHeritage’s DNA Test Kit is somewhat pricey, but it has the best social network for connecting with newly discovered DNA relatives.
- Like the brand name suggests, AncestryDNA’s Genetic Ancestry test caters to people that want to learn more about their ethnicity and ancient origins. It’s one of the most specific DNA tests for determining ancestry on the market.
- If you’re looking for a DNA test that does it all, you may want to try 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry test. It reveals crucial health risks, connects you with your DNA relatives and sheds light on your ancient ancestors.
The most established DNA test service
FamilyTreeDNA – Family Finder DNA Test
FamilyTreeDNA made headlines when it came out back in 2000 because it was the very first consumer-oriented DNA test to hit the market. Today, FamilyTreeDNA’s database– which is stored on-site in the company’s own storage facility– contains samples from over two million people. One of the Family Finder test’s most interesting features is ancientOrigins, which matches your DNA to specific archeological dig sites in Europe.
- First mover in the industry. Founded in 2000, FamilyTreeDNA was one of the first consumer DNA tests to hit the market.
- User database contains samples from over two million people. This gives you a greater chance of discovering relatives you never knew you had.
- Holds all DNA samples on-site. Rather than relying on 3rd party DNA processing services, FamilyTreeDNA does all the work themselves in-house.
- Learn about your ancient European origins. With the ancientOrigins feature, you can trace your DNA back to various archaeological dig sites in Europe.
- Good value. Family Finder costs less than most other DNA tests.
- No need to send in a new sample if you want to take another test. If you want to buy one of FamilyTreeDNA’s more expensive tests later, they’ll just use the sample they already have.
- Short processing time. You can get your results in as little as two to four weeks’ time.
- Other DNA tests offer more features. FamilyTreeDNA doesn’t offer any tests that analyze for health issues or traits.
In a nutshell
If you’re looking for an established DNA testing service, FamilyTreeDNA may be worth a look. The company has been operating for nearly 20 years and has accumulated a huge number of users. However, the test’s features are somewhat basic compared to what other companies are offering today.
The best medical DNA test with free updates
tellmeGen DNA Test Kit
tellmeGen is one of the only DNA testing services that offers free updates and tests for potential medical issues. When scientists discover new information related to genetics and health issues, tellmeGen will update your profile and send you updated results for no additional cost. You can learn about and take action to prevent over 175 different types of diseases, ranging from diabetes to breast cancer and more.
- Get information about potential health issues. This DNA test analyzes for diabetes, breast cancer and over 175 other risk factors.
- Receive more information as time goes on. tellmeGen markets itself as a DNA service. As new discoveries come out, you can learn more about yourself for no extra charge.
- Find out about drug allergies and sensitivities. You can learn how your body will react to a wide range of medications.
- Identifies your ancestral origins. The test also reveals your ancestors’ countries of origin.
- Committed to data privacy. tellmeGen adheres to the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) data privacy standards.
- Simple self-test procedure. The only genetic information you need to provide is a cheek swab.
- Responsive customer service. tellmeGen advertises that it’s “the DNA test with the best customer service.” They support team tries to resolve all issues in under 24 hours.
- Expensive compared to other DNA tests. This test costs significantly more than what other DNA test makers charge.
- Patience may be required. It usually takes four to six weeks to get your initial results.
In a nutshell
This is the best DNA test to get if you want to know about diseases that you may need to watch out for later in life. It costs a bit more than other DNA tests, but provides potentially life changing health information.
The best DNA test kit for connecting with newly-discovered relatives
MyHeritage DNA Test Kit
If the idea of connecting with long lost family members over the internet sparks your interest, MyHeritage’s DNA test kit could be worth a look. The company has a huge user base that connects 107 million people around the world. A feature called Search Connect lets you interact with your DNA relatives and help them flesh out your family tree and you can keep building your tree on the go with the MyHeritage mobile apps.
- Innovative family tree feature. You get an automatically generated family tree, which you can explore and customize.
- Discover relatives from around the world. A feature called Search Connect lets you collaborate with your DNA relatives and help them flesh out your family tree.
- Large user base. MyHeritage advertises that it has 107 million users and 47 million family trees.
- Delivers results in four weeks or less. Some DNA tests require six to eight weeks or even more time for processing.
- Reasonable price tag. The basic test is inexpensive.
- Mobile app. The MyHeritage mobile app lets you explore and build your family tree on the go.
- Committed to privacy and security. Two-factor authentication stops hackers from stealing information from your account.
- Some features require an expensive paid subscription. Since many premium features can only be unlocked if you opt into MyHeritage’s pricey subscription plans, you’ll likely end up paying more.
In a nutshell
Few other DNA tests give you the ability to connect with over 100 million people around the globe. However, if you want to get the most out of the company’s social features, you have to be willing to pay a hefty monthly fee.
The best DNA test for ethnicity and ancient ancestry
AncestryDNA: Genetic Ethnicity Test
AncestryDNA offers excellent value compared to other ancestry testing services. Other similar DNA tests will only connect their customers to a limited number of DNA relatives unless they buy a subscription. With AncestryDNA, the base test gives you full access to billions of records and 100 million family trees. This makes AncestryDNA a more affordable choice for people who want to learn more about ancestry.
- Identifies not only countries, but also regions within them. This is one of the only DNA tests that lets you trace your roots back to regions within specific countries.
- Information updates are free. AncestryDNA’s database now contains more than five times the number of samples that it previously had. After the update, AncestryDNA sent out new information to all of its customers.
- The most popular DNA test. AncestryDNA says that it’s the “#1 best selling DNA test on the market.”
- No paywalls or added charges. Once you buy a test, you can access 100 million family trees and billions of records.
- Committed to privacy. AncestryDNA advertises that it conforms to industry security standards and gives its users complete control over their data.
- Traits analysis upgrade is available. For a few dollars more, you can add trait testing and find out more about yourself.
- You have to wait six to eight weeks for your results. Most other DNA tests have shorter wait times.
- AncestryDNA doesn’t test for potential medical risks. There are no upgrades that will let you learn about potential disease risk factors.
In a nutshell
As the AncestryDNA brand name suggests, this DNA test caters to people who want to uncover the historical roots of their genes. Other similar tests track your DNA back to general regions, but this one identifies specific countries. It’s not for people looking for DNA-related medical information.
The most full-featured DNA test
23andMe DNA Test / Health + Ancestry Personal Genetic Service
Some DNA tests specialize in connecting DNA relatives, identifying traits or finding health risks. 23andMe’s DNA test attempts to fill all those use cases and more. Over 125 reports tell you all kinds of information about you. You can learn not only what your favorite flavor of ice cream likely is, but also whether or not it’s a good idea for you to eat ice cream and other sugary foods. A social feature lets you find and connect with DNA relatives.
- Find out about previously undiscovered traits. If you may have a talent for matching musical pitch, this test will tell you that. It unveils all kinds of other information about your genes, as well.
- Learn about potential health risks. Along with traits, 23andMe will identify whether or not you may develop diseases like Altzheimer’s and diabetes.
- Connect and interact with DNA relatives. An opt-in feature called DNA Relative Finder lets you make new family connections and look up long lost cousins.
- Intuitively designed apps. Some DNA testing services have clunky-looking websites, but 23andMe’s intuitive design makes it very easy to use.
- Trace your ancestry. The ancestry tracking feature connects your DNA to over 1000 regions around the world.
- Reports integrate with Lark, an AI-powered health coach app. Lark uses 23andMe reports to create customized exercise and nutrition suggestions.
- You have to wait eight weeks for the results. Other companies deliver results in as little as two weeks’ time.
- Expensive compared to other DNA tests. 23andMe costs nearly twice as much as competing DNA testing services.
In a nutshell
23andMe analyzes for both medical issues and ancestry, plus it has a social feature that lets you connect with other 23andMe users. On the other hand, it is somewhat expensive. If you’re willing to pay a bit more for the larger feature set, it may be the ideal choice.
Buying guide for DNA tests
Number of regions and countries
Some DNA tests that have an ancestry feature can only trace your genes back to general regions of the world, but others are more precise. Scientists have obtained human DNA from various dig sites around the world and some DNA tests can trace your lineage back to these exact locations.
Most DNA test manufacturers deliver your results in around four weeks’ time. The fastest DNA testing services have a two-week turnaround. On the other end of the spectrum, other DNA testing services make their users wait eight weeks or more. The amount of time you’ll have to wait may vary depending on how busy the company is.
There are two main types of DNA test samples: saliva samples and cheek swab samples. Both types of tests are easy to perform and accurate. However, if the thought of collecting saliva from your mouth leaves you feeling squeamish, you may want to go with a cheek swab test instead.
Be sure to find out whether or not you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription to get the most out of your DNA test before you buy. Most DNA testing services give you full access to all their features after you buy a test, but some lock the best features behind paywalls.
Health risk identification features
Some people are more prone to developing diseases like diabetes and Altzheimer’s than others. You can learn more about these types of risks by purchasing a DNA test that has a health risk identification feature.
Social network features
Many DNA testing services provide a built-in social network that lets you identify and connect with your DNA relatives. If these types of social features interest you, you may want to go with a DNA testing service that has a large number of active users.
If you’re curious about what kinds of natural gifts and behaviors you may be likely to have, you may want to consider purchasing a DNA test that can identify traits. Many of the traits that make us who we are can be found in our DNA. For example, some people are born with the natural ability to identify and match musical tones.
A growing number of DNA testing services offer mobile apps. These apps let you do things like build your family tree, interact with DNA relatives and get detailed information about your test results on the go.
It’s a good idea to read your prospective DNA testing service’s terms of service before you join. DNA testing services that put privacy first give their users complete control over their information. These companies will let you opt out of any information sharing programs that your DNA testing company may be participating in.
Scientists learn new information about human DNA all the time. But when new data comes out, will your DNA testing service update your results for free? Some do provide free updates, but others don’t.
Low-cost DNA tests will tell you where your genes originated and reveal your ethnic makeup. Such tests typically cost around $75.
Most DNA tests that you’ll find while shopping cost around $100. At this price range, you’ll find that many DNA tests cater to a specific use case, like genealogy or health risk screening.
The most expensive DNA tests give you access to huge DNA databases and large social networks. These premium DNA tests can usually do more than one thing, as well. If you intend to buy a DNA test that can do ancestry tracking, trait recognition and medical risk identification, expect to pay $150 or more.
Frequently asked questions
Q: I’m interested in learning more about DNA ancestry testing. Which books should I read?
A: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy not only covers the differences between mtDNA, Y-DNA, autosomal DNA and X-DNA tests, but also helps you understand and interpret your results. For a more personal story about a surprising DNA journey that upended a life, try Bill Grifith’s touching memoir, The Stranger in My Genes. Bonnie Rochman’s The Gene Machine provides an excellent introduction to the ethical and legal issues around DNA testing.
Q: Will I end up with different results if I take several DNA tests?
A: That could happen, since a DNA testing service is only as good as its DNA database. Incomplete data may produce inaccurate results. The companies that sell DNA tests don’t share their data and there is no industry standard for accuracy. That’s why it’s important to choose an established DNA testing service that’s run by experienced scientists.
Q: How do DNA testing services make money from the information they collect?
A: If you’re concerned about how your genetic information will be used, you’ll need to read all the fine print on your prospective DNA testing service’s website.Many DNA testing services sell their customers’ data to pharmaceutical drug manufacturers. However, some DNA testing services have pledged to never do this.
- Get your relatives involved. The more data your family provides, the more fun you’ll have because you’ll get more potential leads when you try to look for DNA relatives online. Many people buy DNA tests for their loved ones as gifts.
- Stick with the most popular brand names. Lesser-known DNA testing services often don’t do enough to protect their customers’ privacy and security.
- If you like to travel, you may want to consider booking a genealogy tour after you get your DNA test results. A number of genealogy tourism services have sprung up in Ireland, Africa and elsewhere around the world.