If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re curious about DNA testing kits, but you’re probably slightly skeptical about their validity. Well, you’re right to have not dived in and bought the first one you stumble across.
DNA home testing kits are big business, and they’re expected to get bigger and bigger as more of us reach for test tubes in a bid to unlock the secrets of our ancestral lineage.
By 2022, the market is expected to be worth an impressive £7.7bn. And already we’re seeing it evolve from standard ancestry tests to far more specific kits that can go so far as to predict the illnesses you’re more likely to encounter, to using your DNA to derive a tailored nutrition and fitness plan. You can now even get DNA kits for your canine and feline companions.
Because of the huge amount of choice out there, selecting the right DNA testing kit for your needs can be tough, particularly as the market fills up with lesser-known names - some good, some bad. To help you out, we’ve created a site that will provide you with all the information you need to select the best kit for you.
This article will give you an overview of everything you need to know, from what types of kits are available, to the most respected brands on the market, to how to use the test when it arrives. DNA tests are extremely simple to use, and we’re determined to make shopping for one equally as easy.
Where did it all start?
DNA home testing kits are a relatively new product and first arose in the late 1990s. The first company to provide genealogical testing at home was GeneTree - known today as AncestryDNA.
However, this kit was far more basic than the ones on offer today and did not offer multi-generational genealogy tests.
In 2000, Family Tree DNA became the first company to provide direct-to-consumer genealogy testing in partnership with the University of Arizona. From this point onwards, the potential of home DNA testing kits really started to show.
In 2016, MyHeritage launched a genetic testing kit which used cheek swabs rather than saliva, and just last year the company established new means of analysis - auto clusters - which group DNA matches and family tree theories to highlight conceivable links between DNA matches by combining the Myheritage family trees and the Geni global family tree.
As of 2019, it’s estimated that the main DNA testing companies had about 26 million DNA profiles on record - and this is only likely to keep growing. Fast forward to today and there are thousands of tests to choose from, each promising to be the best available.
Why test my DNA?
People do DNA tests for a range of reasons. Perhaps the most frequent being that we love finding out new things about ourselves. A DNA test can unlock an unknown ancestral lineage that can be traced back centuries, plus it can provide us with DNA matches - and potential relatives - we’d otherwise never know about.
It can also reveal explanations for certain traits we have, which perhaps stem from a particular ethnic group or region of the world.
While some people may test their DNA out of pure intrigue, others do it for more practical purposes. DNA health and fitness tests can help you learn more about your genetic makeup to enable you to make changes in your day-to-day life. These types of tests can tell you more about any diseases you may be more vulnerable to, your sensitivity to different food groups, and your body’s response to exercise. As a result, you can better tailor your diet and fitness routine to reflect these results.
What can I find out?
There are three main ways in which DNA tests can unlock our genetic code:
The three main things DNA tests offer are:
- Your ethnic origin and ancestral lineage
- The physical and emotional traits of your DNA: what makes you, ‘you’
- What your DNA says about your body, health, and mind, and how you can care for it
Aside from being downright interesting, these results also offer you the opportunity to rethink your daily lifestyle. To alter your routine, diet, and fitness regime to provide yourself with the optimal conditions to get the most out of your genetics.
Types of DNA tests
This is the scientific part where things can get a bit tricky, but we’ve tried to break it down as much as possible:
Autosomal DNA Test
This type of test can be taken by both males and females and will give you an indication of your ethnic makeup. Autosomal DNA is contained in the 22 pairs of chromosomes not involved in determining a person's sex, and it recombines with each new generation, with new offspring receiving one set of chromosomes from each parent.
These are then inherited exactly equally from both your mother and father, and roughly equally from your grandparents and the three generations preceding them, so an individual receives half of their markers from each parent, about a quarter of their markers from each grandparent, and about an eighth of their markers from each great grandparent.
An autosomal DNA test may provide you with potential matches or relatives within 5 to 6 generations on both the maternal and paternal lineages of your family, and is by far the most common type of DNA testing found in the straight-to-consumer kits.
The Y DNA Test
This test can only be taken by a male, as it is used to track the Y chromosome passed from father to son through the generations. This type of test reaches farther back than just 5 or 6 generations and will provide you with your paternal haplogroup, ethnicity, relative matches, and surname history.
This makes it an ideal test for anyone who has gaps in the paternal lineage of their family. Family Tree DNA is the only company offering this type of test.
The mtDNA Test
This type of test can be taken by males and females, but it will only the genetic markers of your mother’s maternal line. Like the Y DNA test, It too reaches back through more generations than the autosomal test but instead will provide you with your maternal haplogroup.
This test is also only available through Family Tree DNA.
Ancestry and ethnicity DNA tests
Most DNA testing kits will offer a percentage breakdown by ethnicity and region. The world is generally categorised into 20-25 regions, and these kinds of DNA tests usually give you an approximate percentage of DNA potentially inherited from each region.
Companies such as AncestryDNA, do this via Autosomal testing, which compares the frequency of each Autosomal DNA marker tested against multiple population groups.
As companies such as Ancestry.com increasingly update ethnicity estimates, results can sometimes change. At a continental level, most DNA results are accurate, however, the more specific elements of a set of results may be more questionable, as these are dependent on comparative population size, the number of Autosomal DNA markers that the company tests, and the informative value of the SNPs tested and the person being tested (and the degree of admixture within them).
Some ancestry DNA tests like Living DNA also test Y-DNA and mtDNA, which identify patterns in a human’s Y and X sex chromosomes, used to trace the ethnic history found in the male’s and the female’s (i.e., father’s and mother’s) DNA. These tests are great for tracing your family lines back thousands of years.
Family Tree builders
Some DNA testing websites allow you to test your DNA and link this up with your family tree, which is perfect for joining the dots and exploring your family history. MyHeritage and Ancestry.com offer the best family tree builders which connect you with any genetic matches who are also signed up to the website.
These companies also possess an extensive database of historical documents that can be used to trace your ancestry or find missing relatives. Building a family tree after you receive your DNA results is a perfect way to delve deeper into your family history.
Diet and Fitness DNA tests
Some DNA tests go the extra mile to further analyze your genetics, and how these impact your health and fitness level, for example, the Gene Food test looks at your metabolic rate and reaction to certain stimulants, while Living DNA can give you personalized workout recommendations.
These can help you identify your optimum nutrition needs, including your sensitivity to food groups such as carbohydrates and even your response to alcohol, while fitness reports can analyse your body’s response to training and exercise and even identify your predisposition to injury.
You can even get DNA reports of your wellness state, which includes points such as your sleep quality, tolerance to stress, and the impact of caffeine on your body.
These types of DNA testing kits can give you a better understanding of your body, which in turn, can help you tailor your diet and fitness routine to your individual needs.
Health and Wellness DNA tests
Some DNA tests, such as the well-known 23andme, can also give you an overview of how your DNA can increase your likelihood of certain illnesses or diseases, such as diabetes, selected variants of BRCA1/BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer), and your vulnerability to celiac disease.
These can help you to take preventive measures for certain types of illnesses, for example, monitoring your diet and reducing foods that increase your risk.
The BRCA1/BRCA2 gathered attention back in 2013 when Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries after she discovered that she carries a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene which significantly increases her risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
DNA testing companies Everlywell and LetsGetChecked go the extra mile and test your current health, rather than your predisposition to certain illnesses.
These types of tests are done through a finger-prick test rather than a saliva or cheek swab test and aim to analyse your hormonal balance, vitamin levels, and any allergies you may possess, which could help explain certain things about your daily state of wellness, such as feeling groggy or lethargic.
Pet DNA testing
Think you’ve heard it all? Well, you haven’t. Pet DNA testing kits are the latest addition to the market and can identify your beloved feline or canine’s breed, physical characteristics such as how much they shed, their coat length, and patterning. While this might just seem like a fun thing to do, it has practical advantages too.
For example, knowing more about your pet’s ethnicity - or breed - can help you tailor its diet and activity to its specific health traits. This is particularly useful if your pet is a mixed breed and could have acquired traits from a variety of ethnic origins. Embark and Wisdom Panel are probably the two best-known DNA tests for dogs.
While this type of test is relatively new to the DNA home testing scene, it's quickly growing in popularity so we expect to see more new names cropping up in the near future.
How do I use a DNA test?
One of the best things about home DNA testing kits is that they’re super quick and easy to do. The hardest part is selecting the best one for your needs, but hopefully, we’ve made that part slightly easier for you.
- Once you’ve done this, simply order the test online and it will be posted to your preferred address.
- Next, simply perform the test as instructed by your chosen company. For this part, it’ll usually involve a cheek swab or saliva sample, or if it’s a health test, it may require a finger prick test.
- You’ll then need to mail your sample back to the company - most include a pre-paid envelope to return it to the lab.
- Next is the waiting game. Most companies will process your results within 6 weeks, though some may take 8 if they’re particularly popular.
- Once your results have been processed, you’ll receive a notification either by mail or more commonly via email, which will link you up to the company’s online system where you can view your results, and, if included in your product, you can then begin conducting further research for your family tree.
Don’t forget that instructions and processes differ slightly between companies, so always follow the instructions that come with your chosen test.
Some companies also require you to register with them before they can process your results and post them in your online portal.
If you’ve read a bit about DNA home testing kits, you’ve no doubt encountered their critics. As we mentioned above, ethnicity approximations can be pretty trustworthy on a continental level, but the more specific details should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Most genetic testing companies advertise a 99% accuracy rate, and some could be even as high as 99.9%, but no DNA test is going to be 100% accurate.
The main reason for this is that the precision and accuracy of DNA testing largely depend on factors such as comparative population size, the number of Autosomal DNA markers that the company tests, and the informative value of the SNPs tested and the person being tested.
DNA companies also rely on the samples within their database, so you could say, the larger the database, the more accurate your results. However, this is again reliant on the company having samples from certain regions and ethnic groups.
In terms of size, AncestryDNA has the largest ancestry DNA database worldwide with over 15 million samples, 23andMe comes in second with ten million, while MyHeritage is third with around five million. However, the size of the database is insignificant if the company does not do the type of DNA testing you’re looking for, so always check this before being tempted by statistics alone.
As the market for DNA home testing moves from strength to strength, it’s becoming increasingly competitive, which is always a bonus to the consumer, or in this case, testee. It’s worth considering what you’re actually looking to test, as, generally speaking, the most extensive the test, the higher the price.
That said, there are some pretty affordable options out there that are also highly praised, such as LivingDNA which tests for ancestry, diet, and fitness.
Tests can cost into the hundreds, and while the more expensive tests are usually more extensive in their nature, this does not automatically make them more reliable. The best-known DNA testing companies such as Ancestry, MyHeritage, and 23andMe are around £100, and these have the highest volume of reviews, too.
When selecting a test, the most important thing to consider is what you wish to test, how much you’d like to spend, and what you’re hoping to find out. If a test ticks all of these boxes, then it could be a good option for you.
Which is the best test for me?
For testing ancestry
If you’re looking for a test that can give a general overview of your ancestry and ethnic origin, AncestryDNA is a great starting point for going on to conduct further family tree research, as is MyHeritage.
For tracing ancestors, Living DNA will test your Y-DNA and mtDNA which is used to trace back ethnic heritage on both your father and mother’s side.
For testing diet and fitness
If you want to find out how your genetics influences your metabolism and sensitivity to certain foods, GeneFoods is a good option, while for finding your optimal workout routine, LivingDNA will give you exercise recommendations based on your genetic profile.
For testing predisposition to illness
Many of the main DNA tests that are used to predict ancestry also assess your health and wellness. 23andMe is one of the best-known for identifying any predispositions to illnesses, while Ancestry and MyHeritage also offer this testing option.
Embark is a current favourite for dog DNA, but this niche is growing in popularity - so watch this space.
The market for DNA testing is thriving, and there are hundreds of names to choose from, some well known, others not so much. You can also get DNA tests for a variety of specific testing needs.
While traditional home testing kits were used for identifying ancestry and ethnic origin, they can now be used to test your general health and wellness, your predisposition to illness, and even your fitness and dietary requirements.
These types of tests not only satisfy that natural human intrigue we all possess, but can actually tell us useful information that can help us shape what we eat and the amount of exercise we do, which could improve our overall well being.
While home DNA testing kits should not be taken at face value, they are relatively accurate, and companies are improving every day as knowledge in this area of science and genetics continues to grow and strengthen.
Thanks to the growing popularity of DNA tests, it’s never been a better time to purchase one as prices are more competitive than ever, with many companies offering generous discounts and deals.
Overall, DNA tests can be a great starting point for further genetic research, especially if you’re looking to find out more about your ancestors and how you got to where you are today.
Ancestry DNA tests can give you the leads you need to help you unlock a whole new world of family history - that you may otherwise have never discovered.