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Genealogy

23andme Review

What is 23andme?

23 and me logo black

23andme is a California-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing company. The name of 23andme stems from the 23 pairs of chromosomes found in a human cell. The company was founded in 2006 and has offered direct-to-consumer DNA health tests since 2014. 

23andme also works with a variety of research collaborators. If you choose to participate when you submit your sample, your DNA will be used in a variety of research to aid scientific advances. The sheer scale of their DNA database allows them to contribute to, and participate in, a significant amount of scientific and clinical research. Their findings can be found in peer-reviewed academic journals. Some of their collaborators include National Parkinson Foundation, Stanford University, and Pfizer. 

They have a complicated relationship with the Food and Drug Administration, owing to the complex legal landscape surrounding direct-to-consumer genetic testing for health or clinical purposes. 

What does 23andme offer?

23andme website 1

23andme offers three different options for purchasing their DNA tests. The least expensive is the Ancestry + Traits Service, which gives you an ancestry breakdown as well as information on how your DNA influences more than 30 traits. Their ancestry breakdown is split into an impressive 1500 regions. You can also find relatives with their optional DNA matcher, and contact your marches to build a more accurate picture of your shared ancestry. Users can also discover the origins of their maternal and paternal (if you are male) ancestors from thousands of years ago. This is possible through the study of Y chromosomal or mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). 

In your ancestry report, they provide you with an ancestry breakdown, indicating to which ethnic populations you are connected. They also present your chromosomes “painted” with your ancestry results, so you can visualize the segments of DNA that are associated with each ethnicity. Their traits report includes fun and quirky traits such as cilantro taste aversion, ear wax type, ability to match musical pitch, and earlobe type. 

23andme also provide a Health + Ancestry test, which offers everything in the Ancestry + Traits service, but also tests for variation that has been linked to disease. Therefore, this test also allows you to understand how your DNA can influence your likelihood of developing complex conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. They also assess your status for a variety of wellness traits. For example, muscle composition, sleep movement, and caffeine consumption. 

23andme test autosomal, Y chromosomal, and mtDNA. Women do not inherit a Y chromosome, so only men receive information about their paternal inheritance. Women can obtain this information from the data of a male relative, such as their father or brother. However, both men and women possess mitochondrial DNA and can determine their maternal lineage. The genetic variation that exists on the Y chromosome and mtDNA arose tens of thousands of years ago and can be used to indicate how humans spread from their origins in Africa.

To determine your ancestral origins, 23andme compares your DNA to 45 populations worldwide. DNA variants occur at different frequencies in different geographical locations, so each represents a distinct pattern. The 23andMe Ancestry Composition algorithm combines information about these patterns with the unique set of DNA markers to estimate your genetic ancestry. They are open about their methodology and how they can narrow down your heritage using your DNA. 

How does the testing process work?

Once you have selected the test you want to take and placed your order, 23andme will send you a kit with which to collect your DNA sample. You simply register your kit and spit in the tube provided. You then send your sample to 23andme, who will analyze it within 3-5 weeks of receipt. 23andme analyzes your results relatively quickly compared to many of their competitors. 

What technology do 23andme use?

Dna Analysis

After receiving your sample, 23andme extracts the DNA from cells present in your saliva. They then amplify your DNA to make enough copies to analyze. The amplified DNA is then cut into smaller fragments. These fragments are then analyzed on a microarray, which is a chip that contains thousands of DNA segments corresponding to the genetic variants they want to study. With the chip, they can tell whether or not you have the presence of specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs are small and frequently occurring sequence changes in the DNA that are associated with various traits and ethnicities. You can visualize these steps in a video on the 23andme website. 23andme have extensive sections in their FAQs devoted to explaining their technology from the testing procedure to the analysis. 

Value for money

The most basic test that 23andme offers is the Ancestry + Traits Service, which is $99 USD. The Ancestry + Health service costs $199.

ou can also upgrade your Ancestry + Traits service to the more complete Ancestry + Health service. Once you have paid, the data becomes immediately available in your account. This option is slightly more costly ($25 without discounts). Still, it could be a good option if you are initially unsure whether you want to find out about health traits.

Their premium service is their VIP Health + Ancestry Service, which costs $499. With this test, you get two Health + Ancestry Service kits, priority lab processing, premium customer support, and one-to-one ancestry results walkthrough with a trained expert.

Verdict

23andme is primarily a genetic health testing company. While they provide information about your ancestry, this is not the focus of their business. They also do not act as an online genealogy resource like Ancestry.com or MyHeritage. Instead, they are entirely devoted to genetic testing. Therefore, if you wish to really dive into your genealogy research, 23andme may not be the best place for you to start. However, their vast database of DNA samples means you have a good chance of discovering living relatives across the world. 

If you want to combine ancestry with health testing, 23andme is the test for you. Many of their health reports are FDA-accredited. However, be aware that 23andme has been the topic of controversy over the years.