The company 23andMe claims to empower people to decode their genetics and take control of their own health. Its personal genome service was introduced in 2007, and was TIME Magazine’s Invention of the Year for 2008. 23andMe’s testing service also provides many interesting ancestry features for genealogists. It was the first company to launch an autosomal DNA relative-matching service with its ‘Relative Finder’ feature (now known as ‘DNA Relatives’) in November 2009, and has continued to provide innovative new tools backed up by some solid science.
23andMe offers a wide range of interesting, well written and attractively presented reports including detailed haplogroup reports for deep ancestry purposes and a Neanderthal ancestry report. 23andMe is the only company to have authorisation from the FDA to offer health reports direct to the consumer.
However, the 23andMe test is less useful than the AncestryDNA test for UK genealogists because of the US-centric nature of the database and because so many people have tested for health rather than genealogy. However, it has a database of over 12.8 million and its health reports are interesting. Like Ancestry, it does not let you upload results from other companies to their database, so you need to test with them if you want to benefit from their database or health reports.
34 trait reports included with the Ancestry test look at physical features, taste and smell and weird and wonderful (eg, ability to match musical pitch, fear of public speaking). 8 wellness reports including lactose intolerance. The Health and Ancestry test provides 14 reports on health predisposition and 45 reports on carrier status (for conditions such as cystic fibrosis).
A 23andMe+ membership costs £19 per year and provides access to additional health and wellness reports and exclusive pharmacogenetic reports. There are also some additional ancestry features such as the ability to view 5000 matches.
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23andMe DNA test product specifications
- Types of DNA test kits available: Single DNA test covering autosomal DNA, Y-DNA and mtDNA. The basic test provides ancestry and traits reports. The full service includes ancestry, traits and health reports.
- Cost of test: Ancestry + Traits £79; Health + Ancestry Service £149.
- Shipping: £9.99. Includes return postage.
- Database: Over 12.8 million.
- Biogeographical ancestry regions: Over 2000 global regions. The best representation for people with Asian ancestry. Regional breakdowns for some African and Caribbean countries. The Chromosome Painting allows you to see the ancestral segments on specific chromosomes.
- Number of UK and Ireland regions: There is a single category for British and Irish. 23andMe also report your top ten regions within the UK and Ireland. They define 165 regions in the UK and 26 in Ireland. However, these regions are based on present-day administrative districts (eg Greater London, Greater Manchester) and the results do not tend to be particularly meaningful.
- DNA analysis tools: Relatives in Common. Relatives Map to identify relatives living in countries of interest. The only company to report all X-DNA matches. Advanced DNA Comparison provides access to segment data and a detailed chromosome browser view. Match list restricted to top 1500 matches. No GEDCOM upload so family tree needs to be updated manually.
- Traits: 34 trait reports included with the ancestry test. The health and ancestry test provides 14 reports on health predisposition and 45 reports on carrier status (for conditions such as cystic fibrosis).
- Ancient/deep ancestry: Detailed Y-DNA and mtDNA reports with information on the deep ancestry of your direct paternal and maternal lines. The Neanderthal Ancestry report tells you which genetic variants you’ve inherited from your Neanderthal ancestors.
- Subscription required to access additional features: A 23andMe+ membership costs £19 per year and provides access to additional health and wellness reports and exclusive pharmacogenetic reports. There are also some additional ancestry features such as the ability to view 5000 matches.
- Can you upload DNA test results from other companies to the database? No.
Get more from your 23andMe DNA test
Although many people have not attached family trees to their DNA data, it is still possible to try and connect with your matches. Our guide to cousin matching is a great place to start. Your results will also include 34 trait reports looking at physical features, taste and smell and weird and wonderful (eg, ability to match musical pitch, fear of public speaking). The standard ancestry kit also includes eight wellness reports including lactose intolerance.
23andMe health reports
The health test provides more than 65 reports indicating your predisposition to various diseases and your carrier status for various conditions, for example the gene for cystic fibrosis. Subscribers to 23andMe+ also receive pharmacogenetic reports, which tell you about your body’s ability to process different medications.
It’s important to remember that although the health reports can be interesting to read, they are not diagnostic. If you have a family history of a disease you should always see a GP and get a clinical-grade test through the NHS.
Connecting to 23andMe DNA matches
In terms of ancestry features, 23andMe has a database of more than 12 million, but most of the people testing with the company are doing so for health purposes rather than genealogy, and many have not opted in to participate in DNA Relatives.
23andMe provides a match list, although with the basic service you are restricted to 1,500 matches; with a 23andMe+ subscription this increases to 5,000 matches. About 90 per cent of the database is in the USA, but the UK is the next biggest market and you will find cousins in the 23andMe database who have not tested anywhere else.
Unfortunately 23andMe does not accept transfers, so you need to test with the firm directly. The company provides a prediction of the relationship with your matches. 23andMe reports matches in terms of the percentage of shared DNA and the number of shared segments. You can see a chromosome-browser view showing the total amount of DNA shared in centimorgans, and the location of the shared segments on the different chromosomes. You can download a list of your DNA relatives in a spreadsheet.
23andMe is the only testing firm to provide information about all X-chromosome matches. FamilyTreeDNA (familytreedna.com) reports X-DNA matches too, but only where there is already an autosomal DNA match.
23andMe is also the only firm to provide accurate reports and visualisations for full-sibling relationships. Full siblings have some completely identical DNA segments – regions of the genome where they match on both the maternal chromosomes and the paternal chromosomes.
Sadly you cannot upload a GEDCOM file of your family tree, but there is a family-tree feature for adding relatives manually.
When you first test, 23andMe tries to position your closest matches on your family tree based on how they all match each other. You can add surnames of interest to your profile page and include a link to an external tree.
23andMe provides a number of ancestry reports. ‘Ancestry Composition’ gives a breakdown of the percentages of your DNA matched to different reference populations, and ‘Chromosome Painting’ illustrates the position of the population segments on your various chromosomes.
23andMe also provides haplogroup reports. Males receive a report on their Y-chromosome haplogroup, and both males and females receive a mitochondrial DNA haplogroup report. For fun, you also get a report on your Neanderthal variants, and a chromosome map showing the location of your Neanderthal markers. The reports are all well presented with good explanations and links to scientific papers.