Most everyone wants to know where they come from or whether their susceptible to diseases linked to their family's health history.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to this sort of information, usually because their ancestry isn't well documented. However, thanks to the advent of DNA testing kits over the past few years, people can, for the first time, use science - at home and relatively inexpensively - to learn more about their ethnic roots, genotype, traits, health risks, and more. The problem is, there are so many kits. It can get confusing.
It's hard to determine which is better, and honestly, it depends on your budget and what you want to get from a kit. If you search for "DNA testing kits" on Google right now, you will be served up hundreds of results, some of which you may have heard of before, thanks to TV adverts, but many of them will leave you scratching your heads. To make it easier for you, we've detailed five of the most popular ones.
What is a DNA testing kit?
DNA testing kits do a wide range of things. Some let you know if you're predisposed to genetic-based diseases, while others can help find where in the world you came from and may even connect you with contemporary relatives. Either way, for the purpose of this guide, we will cover tests that you can take at home, where you either swab the inside of your cheek or spit into a tube to submit your DNA for testing.
Which DNA testing kits are the best?
23andMe | What it can do:
23andMe analyses your DNA for information about both your ancestry and your ancient relations. It has collected DNA from more than three million people so far, and gave each of those customers detailed online reports about their ancestry -- diving into their maternal and paternal lines, even telling them how much Neanderthal DNA they have -- and provided access to even more, optional DNA-based health tests.
23andMe offers two kits: Health and Ancestry and Ancestry. The Health and Ancestry plan includes testing for genetic health risks (like Parkinson's disease), carrier status for conditions (like cystic fibrosis). The service also has a Wellness and Traits report, the first of which determines your genetic predisposition for, for instance, being above weight, while the latter measures your likelihood of hair loss, etc.
The Ancestry one is exclusively focused, of course, on your ancestry. You can see your extended DNA family and any famous relatives (you can choose whether to allow others to find you by name, and whether to show your name to potential matches). It also shows you a list of countries of ancestry and top surnames among your relatives. You can also see how much Neanderthal DNA you have in your DNA.
Your results will be sorted into a few categories: Ancestry Composition, Maternal Line, Paternal Line, and Neanderthal Ancestry, while an Ancestry Overview page gives a graph of your ancestry composition and a big-picture view of all the results from your sample.
23andMe | How it works:
When you order a 23andMe kit, you need to agree to the company's terms of service. When you receive the kit, you have to activate it using the unique barcode and then set up an account with 23andMe. After, you must provide your name, date of birth, and sex and acknowledge "you may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate" (like whether your granddad is really blood-related, yikes).
23andMe's collection kit asks you not to eat, drink, smoke cigs, chew gum, brush your teeth, or use mouthwash 30 minutes prior to providing your sample. It then requires you to spit into a tube until your sample hit the fill line. Then, close the lid, which releases the stabilisation liquid into the sample, slip the tube into the included plastic bag, and place it in the prepaid return envelope and drop it at the post.
Your results should arrive in six to eight weeks.
AncestryDNA | What it can do:
Ancestry launched one of the first popular DNA testing kits for consumers. It analyses your DNA and integrates that data with your family tree if you're a subscriber to the service. Even if your not, it tests your DNA to determine your ancestry. Ancestry has collected DNA from more than five million people. Although you won't get any health information, you will learn how much Neanderthal DNA you have.
Your results include an online dashboard that shows you a pie chart with an ethnicity estimate and possible DNA matches with other members. You can view a map of where your ancestors lived, learn more about your ethnicity matches and their countries, see how you compare to the native population. Depending on your genetic makeup, you might also see "trace regions" in your ethnicity estimate, etc.
AncestryDNA is a fun way to learn about (or confirm) your ancestry. If you need any help, you can call Ancestry support seven days a week or access its forums and FAQ section. And, if you cancel your account, you can download your DNA report and keep it with you forever.
AncestryDNA | How it works:
Ancestry ships you a collection kit and two-way shipping. Your kit should arrive within about a week or so. When you receive the kit, the first thing you need to do is activate it online using a unique code on the kit. You'll need to submit your name and click Activate. Next, you can link your kit to your Ancestry family tree (if you Ancestry detects a match with other members, it'll compare it with your family tree).
Once you've finished activating your kit and setting up your account, you need to spit into a plastic tube up to its fill line. You can't eat, drink or smoke 30 minutes prior to providing your sample. Next, you ditch the funnel and screw on the included cap to release a stabilising fluid. Then, you shake the tube, place it in the included collection bag, put that in a prepaid shipping box, and drop it off at the post. Simples.
Once you mail it out, you'll receive confirmation of receipt with an activation number and info about how the results should arrive in the next six to eight weeks. However, in many cases, the results are ready in a mere two weeks. An adult who takes a DNA test is considered the owner of that test, though they can allow other family members or friends to manage the results and allow others to view them as well.
National Geographic Genographic Project
Genographic Project | What it can do:
National Geographic's Genographic Project collects and analyses DNA. But it isn't about tracing your ancestry over the several generations; it traces migration patterns back about 200,000 years ago to Africa. More than 800,000 people in over 130 countries have participated, including Stephen Colbert, Bono, Matt Lauer, and Yo-Yo Ma. The latest version, dubbed Next Generation, launched in 2016.
It was launched through a partnership with Helix, a genetic testing company. The DNA testing kit does a comprehensive analysis of your DNA, so it may take up to eight or nine weeks to receive the results. To see your results, you enter your "GPID number" or sign into your account. You'll then see your online dashboard with information about your results and how they determined and highlighted.
Your results will be broken out. It goes back as far as 200,000 years to reveal your regional ancestry makeup and hominin ancestry (200,000-plus years ago), as well as your deep ancestry (1,000 to 100,000 years ago) and regional ancestry (5,000 to 10,000 years ago). National Geographic offers tonnes of online resources explaining the science behind their kit and what your DNA results mean.
Genographic Project | How it works:
When you receive the kit, you'll see a plastic swab, which looks like a toothbrush, for scraping your inner cheeks. There are two individually wrapped swabs, actually. You scrape the inside of each of your cheeks for 45 seconds each, then you put the swab head into a vial, which you close and place into an included plastic bag. That goes into a pre-addressed envelope. Warning: shipping is not prepaid.
You can submit your sample as an anonymous person or use your unique Genographic Project Participant ID (GPID) number or sign up for an account to register your results and add them to the database. It's entirely up to you.
HomeDNA | What it can do:
HomeDNA offers many DNA tests, in which you can find out about your ancestry, paternity, or even the genetic makeup of your pets. You'll see information about gene pools and family migration patterns, and more. Here are the main tests: GPS Origins Ancestry Test, DNA Origins Maternal Lineage, DNA Origins Paternal Lineage, HomeDNA Starter Ancestry Test, and Vitagene Health Report and Ancestry.
For this guide, we'll look at the GPS Origins Ancestry Test, which can determine the exact town or village where different groups of your ancestors met. The test analyses 800,000 autosomal genetic markers, 862 reference populations, and 36 gene pools. HomeDNA doesn't go as far back as the National Geographic Genographic Project that traces you all the way back to Africa, though it still has plenty of detail.
It doesn't search for genetic matches, like many other services, and it doesn't have family tree software. But it can do health and breed-identification tests for dogs, specific tests for humans (like healthy weight and skin care), and personalised nutrition and fitness advice. It takes a deep look at your ancestors, including your ancestors lived post-Africa and where they migrated over time.
The company also has a number you can call, if you have any questions about how to parse together the data from your results.
HomeDNA | How it works:
HomeDNA's extraction kit contains four cotton swabs and two envelopes. You swab each cheek twice, put the the swabs in an envelope, close it up, and place that envelope into the prepaid envelope. No stabilising liquid and there's no eating, drinking, or chewing required. And, like usual, your sample does not have your name on it. There is an unique barcode that maintains your privacy and makes it easier to track.
Prior to shipping your sample, you must register your kit online so you can view your results. The prepaid envelope will take up to 10 days to reach the HomeDNA lab, and the results take another two to three weeks to process. You'll get a notification when your finished results were ready. At that point, you log into HomeDNA's website and can either view the results or download the raw data to keep forever.
MyHeritage DNA | What it can do:
MyHeritage DNA offers DNA testing with free family tree matching. You can view where your ancestors lived, and your results can be expanded if you create a family tree. You can get access to tools such as smart matching, which finds matching profiles in other members' family trees and record matching. MyHeritage claims to sort through billions of historical records. It does offer its own free family tree software, too.
With that, you can invite other relatives to collaborate on the family tree, too. When you click on the notification email to access your results, you'll see a spinning globe set to regional music and a map that reveals your results, with highlighted areas indicated your ethnicity (their percentages are listed to the left). You can zoom in and out of the online map to view your ethnic roots, but there won't be any deep data.
There also won't be any far-reaching Neanderthal DNA information. So, if you want to see where ancestors lived and what may have caused them to migrate to another part of the globe at some point, you should look to other services like AncestryDNA and others.
MyHeritage DNA | How it works:
To order a kit, simply provide your year of birth and sex. You'll receive your kit within a week, at which point you can register it by adding its barcode to your account. Kits are tracked by number. Once you register it, you can do the swab part. This DNA kit has two swabs and two vials filled with a stabilising solution. Once you've swabbed a sample, break of the plastic part and place the cotton swab in the solution.
Once you have put them in the vials, slip the vials into the provided envelope. You must provide postage, unfortunately. Your results should be available within a few weeks. MyHeritage has a help center with more information if you need help about understanding your DNA results.
Which is the absolute best?
23andMe Health and Ancestry does a deep-dive on not only your health but also your ancestry. However, if you are an Ancestry.com user, AncestryDNA will look deep into your past and link you up with other members' trees. Both are top-tier services that far outweigh rivals.