23andMe is one of the most recognizable names in the consumer DNA testing industry. It boasts over five million users and offers five distinct ancestry reports, as well as optional relative matching. 23andMe’s ancestry testing service is our pick for the best overall DNA test because it’s easy-to-use and understand, gives you a variety of information based on your DNA sample alone, and offers an FDA approved health screening upgrade.
Sample Collection and Registration
The 23andMe sample collection kit is extremely easy to navigate. However, it can take a while to work up enough spit for the saliva sample tube, especially since you can’t eat or drink before or during sample collection. Even so, most of our testers preferred the saliva samples over the faster but more painful cheek swabs that many other companies use. Registering the kit on 23andMe’s website was also simple. Each kit comes with a sample return box, which you can just drop in the mail after sealing your sample. After that, you wait for your results.
Our testers received notifications that our samples were received 15 days after we mailed them. The email also said that it would take approximately six to eight weeks from that point for results. It actually only took 17 days after the email to get our results notifications. From mailing our samples back to collection, all in all, was 32 days. This was slower than several other DNA services, including the speedy MyHeritage DNA, which had a 16-day turnaround.
When you get your 23andMe results, it takes you to an easy-to-navigate dashboard with your ancestry composition report front and center. Testers reported both high levels of confidence in the accuracy and high rates of satisfaction with the contents and detail of their results. The service breaks down the world into 171 populations, based off its reference panel of 10,000 individuals with known ancestry. Some of these population groups are a tad redundant. For example, I received hits for South Korean, Korean, Broadly Japanese & Korean, and Broadly East Asian in my report, which all represent a similar area but show different levels of certainty. Scrolling down your ancestry summary, you can also view your ancestry timeline. This estimates how many generations back your most recent ancestor from each of your matched regions probably lived. You can also view your ancestry composition mapped out on chromosomes. This view is interesting, as you can change the level of confidence from speculative to conservative, which equates a match percentage of 50 to 90 percent.
23andMe tests autosomal and mitochondrial DNA for all users, as well as Y-DNA for males. These different types of DNA play into the service’s different ancestry reports. Your geographical ancestry report stems from the autosomal DNA, which is a combination of both of your parents’ DNA. Your maternal and paternal haplogroups are derived from mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA respectively. These show the migration of your direct parental line through thousands of years. 23andMe also identifies your Neanderthal ancestry.
The last ancestry-related report from 23andMe is your DNA Family. This report is separate from the relative matching feature, which you have to opt-in to. It tells you very generalized information about the people in the database who share segments of DNA with you, including states of residence, similar geographical ancestral regions and traits like the ability to wiggle your ears or whistle.
If you opt in to 23andMe’s family matching feature, you can connect with other 23andMe users with similar genes. This feature lets you view your matched relative’s display name, sex, profile photo, percent of DNA shared, number of DNA segments shared, relatives in common and haplogroups. The interface also estimates how closely you are related to each match. It’s very easy to connect with your matches on the website, and you can request more information by inviting them to share DNA reports.
If you’re more interested in learning about the relatives you already know you have, 23andMe has a few unique tools that let you compare your DNA with your children, parents and grandparents. If multiple people in your family tree want to get tested, fill out a GrandTree, which shows you which segments of DNA you inherit from each of your tested parents or grandparents. While nowhere near as comprehensive as AncestryDNA’s family tree and genealogy tools, 23andMe’s more nuclear approach to family genetics is a great option that lets you explore your genetic relationship with more immediate relations.
Health + Ancestry Kit
In addition to its ancestry test, 23andMe also offers a cool health upgrade. The upgrade costs $125 if you add it after getting your ancestry results, so we recommend splurging and buying the $199 Health + Ancestry kit from the start and it often goes on sale. It was approved as the first direct-to-consumer genetic screening service by the FDA in 2015 for certain conditions including Parkinson’s disease and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the service’s 87 health reports are much more lighthearted, however, including information about your probability of disliking cilantro, getting bit by mosquitos or having a longer index finger than ring finger.
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