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DNA tests and you: All the types of DNA tests on the market

DNA
(Image credit: Tony Webster via Flickr)

Home DNA testing kits can relay a wealth of information hiding in your genetic makeup, but don't stop there! As it turns out, there are several different types of DNA testing kits for different members of your family, and for different purposes. 

Though we exclusively reviewed ancestry tests, they are by no means the only at-home DNA kits available. In fact, the direct-to-consumer market is flush with odd and interesting products that give you gene-based insights into everything from wine preferences to potential romantic partners.  

Pet DNA tests: How do they work?

Companies like Embark, Wisdom Panel and many others offer genetic health risk screenings, trait analyses and breed percentage information for dogs. These canine ancestry tests allow you to confidently state that your mutt is part Irish wolfhound and give you key information about your pet’s heritage for insights into potential health issues. For example, if you find out one of your rescue dog’s parents was likely a purebred boxer, you could speak with your vet about breed-specific needs. 

Basepaws DNA CatKit promises information about your cat’s breed and traits with just a hair sample, though it offers swab kits for hairless cats. The kit also tells you how closely related your kitty is to wild cats such as lions, tigers and ocelots.

Health and wellness DNA tests

There are a ton of health and wellness DNA tests. We found several specifically oriented to dieting and weight loss, including embodyDNA, Vitagene, DNAFit and the several options available through the Helix marketplace. 

While there are definitely are some links between DNA and factors that contribute to weight, we advise taking these diet plans with a grain of salt, as DNA science is still a relatively young field. 

We similarly advise caution for the multitude of non-diet health and wellness DNA tests, which offer insights into your sleep, food sensitivities, and vitamin and mineral levels. And double that for medical information found in consumer DNA kit test results. 

While medical insights learned from taking an at-home DNA test may be interesting, it’s best not to take them too seriously. If you have a concern about a genetic predisposition to a disease, it’s always best to talk to your doctor instead of relying entirely on a direct-to-consumer kit. 

Paternity tests

At-home paternity tests have been around much longer than other direct-to-consumer DNA tests. Most of them require you to collect cheek swab samples from a prospective father and child, which you then send off to a lab to determine paternity. For non-legal use, these tests can cost as little as $15, but tests that provide verified results that are admissible in court cost a few hundred dollars.  

DNA tests for children

Since genome sequencing is still a relatively young science, we don't recommend submitting your child’s DNA to direct-to-consumer companies. We do encourage consulting with your doctor about genetic testing for your child. 

Due to some concerns with the DNA-testing industry, the choice to have your genes sequenced by a private company should be made with informed consent. Those concerns are magnified when applied to children, who cannot make their own decisions regarding the unlikely potential risks or privacy concerns.

Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to forget. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family-matching features.

Similarly, on the health side, finding out your child has a gene connected to cancer or another disease can induce unnecessary anxiety, especially since a genetic predisposition to a certain disease does not always guarantee a diagnosis.

Other types of DNA tests

On the not-so-serious side of at-home DNA testing, there is a company that offers wine recommendations based on your genes. Vinome is part of the Helix marketplace. It creates a personalized taste profile for you based on your genes and offers a curated list of wines you can buy through the service. If you buy and rate the wines, Vinome hones in on your preferences and matches you to new products.

If you’re single and looking for something more than chance to guide your love life, you could also try a DNA-based dating service like DNA Romance. This service works using information about chemical attraction and relationships to make you a genetically ideal match.

Finally, if you happen to meet a special someone on DNA Romance and want to see what your future child together might look like, there’s BabyGlimpse by HumanCode. Like a very advanced Punnett square, BabyGlimpse compares your and your partner’s DNA to create a profile that examines which traits your offspring might inherit, including things like ancestral DNA, eye color and lactose intolerance.

Cross-referencing raw DNA files and using 3rd party DNA databases

DNA test companies that use genotyping technology, including 23andMe and Ancestry, allow you to download your raw DNA file. A raw DNA file is usually a text file that contains all the information about your genetic code gleaned from the company’s examination of your DNA. This is comprised of several hundred thousand markers known as SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). 

Most raw files are organized into five columns: the SNP coded into an rsID number, the chromosome the SNP is located on, the location of the SNP on the chromosome and the two alleles for each SNP.

Looking at your raw DNA file might not give you any useful information unless you’re looking for a specific marker. You can also upload the file into a third-party DNA databases for information or results beyond what’s available from your testing company. 

This process is not without risks, as your DNA testing company only ensures the security of your personal information in its own environment. Once you download the file, you’re responsible for the file’s security. However, uploading your raw DNA to a third party database isn’t inherently unsafe — just be cautious.

There are many places you can upload your raw DNA, and several of them are free. Popular third-party DNA analysis tools include GEDmatch and Promethese. GEDmatch is a free, open database and genealogy site that gives additional DNA relative matching and trait results. 

This tool has information from users of multiple different testing companies. Promethease compares your raw DNA information against scientific reports that link certain markers to health conditions, though you should take these results with a grain of salt as genetic links do not equal a diagnosis.