CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Internet

Best DNA Ancestry Testing Kits

Looking for the best DNA test kits for 2018? Here are your best options.

Each color shows a chemical component of DNA. Getty Images

Home DNA testing has gone from a curiosity to a competitive market in the past decade, with at least a dozen companies now competing with trailblazers such as Ancestry and 23andMe. But before we compare and contrast the available options, let's take a look at exactly why you'd invest in a DNA testing service -- including the upsides and the caveats.

Services available

If you're using a home DNA testing service, you're likely looking for one of three things:

Ancestry and family history: The first big draw of a full DNA test is that you'll get a detailed breakdown on ancestry and ethnicity, and the migration patterns of your ancestors. Spoiler alert: Your ethnic background may be radically different than you think it is.

Relative identification: With your permission, some DNA services will let you connect with relatives you never knew you had -- other folks with matching DNA who have used the service and likewise given their permission to connect to possible relations.  

Health and disease info: DNA testing can also indicate which conditions for which you may have a preponderance. It's a controversial feature, to be sure. Knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to a certain form of cancer may make you more vigilant for testing, but it may also lead to increased stress -- worrying about a potential condition that may never develop, even if you're "genetically susceptible" to it. The possibility of false positives and false negatives abound -- any such information should be discussed with your doctor before you act upon it.

How the tests work

Afraid of needles and drawing blood? Good news: That's not an issue with these tests. All you need to do is spit into a vial or rub a swab in your mouth -- all the genetic data needed for these tests is present in your saliva -- and ship it to the company for analysis.

The reason that saliva works as well as blood (or hair follicles or skin samples) is that your DNA -- which is short for deoxyribonucleic acid -- is present in all of them. It's the basic genetic code present in all of your cells that makes up your key attributes, from the color of your eyes to the shape of your ears to how susceptible you are to cholesterol.

The key terms you need to know when comparing DNA testing services are:

SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism): Genotyping is done by measuring genetic variation. One of the more common is SNP genotyping, which measures the variations of a single nucleotide polymorphism. In our service summaries below, we discuss the number of SNPs. That's because the more a company measures, the more granular the variations analyzed.

Autosomal DNA testing: This test can be administered to both men and women, and traces lineage back through both the maternal and paternal bloodlines.

Y-DNA: The Y-DNA test can only be administered to men, and traces DNA back through the patrilineal ancestry (basically from father to grandfather to great grandfather).

mtDNA: The mtDNA is matrilineal and lets you trace your ancestry back through your mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

Autosomal tests can get you quality genetic information going back about four or five generations. Because the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are more focused on one side of the line, you can get information going back farther, but with less data about family structure.

4 important caveats

Before you use any of the services we've highlighted below, keep these important factors in mind.

Match database size: If you're looking for family relations, this is important. Simply put, the bigger the pool of available data, the better the chance you'll have of finding a match.

Privacy concerns: Nothing is more private than your health data, which is why you should make sure a prospective DNA testing site follows the same best-practice online security protocols you'd expect from your bank or email provider. You'll want to look for two-factor authentication, an encrypted password database and so on.

But for DNA testing providers, you should also investigate how they're sharing your genetic data -- even if anonymously -- and how long they keep the data. It's not just academic: Authorities recently identified a suspect in the Golden State Killer murders thanks to an open-source DNA and genealogy service known as GEDmatch (not profiled here). 

If you're creeped out by how much information Facebook, Google and Amazon have on you based on your online browsing habits, just remember that these DNA testing services are getting what is effectively your medical history. Make sure of their policies before turning over that valuable data. Also, even if you don't share your DNA with a service, your familial DNA data may be available if a relative shared their genetic material. The privacy issues can get very complex.

Don't expect perfect accuracy. They can give you indications, but taking a DNA test won't magically produce a history book of your family's background.

Consult a doctor on any health data: Cancer. Leukemia. Heart disease. Alzheimer's. There are a lot of scary afflictions out there, and your DNA testing may well indicate which ones you are genetically predispositioned to. But the data from DNA testing exists in isolation. You should consult your doctor to explore the data from any of these tests. They'll help you determine how to implement any lifestyle changes or followup testing as a result, if it's worth doing so.

The services

With those explanations and caveats in place, we present to you 9 of the best DNA services we've found. Some are better than others, so you should not only take our information into account when spending on a service, but look for reviews and stories posted by those who have used the services to see what their experiences have been.

Expect this list to be updated periodically with relevant news and analysis.

CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of these products and services featured on this page.    

homedna-logo-250x300

HomeDNA

  • Price: $59 (more in-depth tests additional)
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA
  • Match Database: None
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 850,000

HomeDNA is kind of like the Walmart of DNA testing, which is somewhat appropriate given that the company's tests are sold at Walmarts, as well as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens pharmacies.

While the jury is still out about the effectiveness of specialty tests, HomeDNA sells separate test kits to determine food and pet sensitivity ($99), diet and exercise strategies based on your genetic makeup ($119), paternity ($164), and even skin care ($99).

For those of you curious about your ancestry, HomeDNA has you covered with a wide ranging set of products (wide-ranging in price, too, from $69 to $199) to help you trace your historical background.

Testing is done with a mouth swab, shipping (if you don't buy the test locally) is free, and results are kept for 25 years.

And, for those of you with dogs, you can get a test (that you administer to your pooch) that can help you determine your dog's breed history ($125). You can also buy a health screening test for your dog or your cat ($125) which performs a series of tests for genetic diseases and traits.

See it at HomeDNA
23andme

23andMe

  • Price: $99 or $199 with health info (plus $9.95 shipping)
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA, Health
  • Match Database: 1 million
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 650,000

As might be appropriate for a genomics company, 23andMe has interesting familial relationships, in this case with Google. CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki is the former wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin and sister of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

Named after the 23 chromosomes found in human cells, 23andMe offers quite a large range of tests, including health tests. It's these health tests that caused 23andMe to spend quite a lot of time in the news, due to the FDA's concern about whether a medically-related DNA test should be considered (and governed) as medical equipment. Over time, 23andMe adjusted its testing to meet FDA requirements and the two organizations now seem to be getting along.

23andMe earns points for the depth of its medical tests, as well as the size of its match database. Purchasers of this test should note that the basic DNA test is $99, but if you want medical results as well, the price doubles.

That added expense may well be worth the money because the additional information provided includes genetic health risk information, wellness reports, trait reports, and carrier status reports, which indicate whether a particular DNA profile may be a genetic carrier of a disease or disability.

The 23andMe test costs $9.95 to ship. Your DNA information is gathered using saliva capture, which, once analyzed, is stored forever on 23andMe's servers. The service also provides for a chromosome browser and comparison, as long as any possible matches approve your access. While the service provides matrilineal and patrilineal line testing, it can only geolocate your DNA ancestry into 31 regions. 

Explore 23andMe DNA Kits and Deals
homedna

HomeDNA

  • Price: $59 (more in-depth tests additional)
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA
  • Match Database: None
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 850,000

HomeDNA is kind of like the Walmart of DNA testing, which is somewhat appropriate given that the company's tests are sold at Walmarts, as well as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens pharmacies.

While the jury is still out about the effectiveness of specialty tests, HomeDNA sells separate test kits to determine food and pet sensitivity ($99), diet and exercise strategies based on your genetic makeup ($119), paternity ($164), and even skin care ($99).

For those of you curious about your ancestry, HomeDNA has you covered with a wide ranging set of products (wide-ranging in price, too, from $69 to $199) to help you trace your historical background.

Testing is done with a mouth swab, shipping (if you don't buy the test locally) is free, and results are kept for 25 years.

And, for those of you with dogs, you can get a test (that you administer to your pooch) that can help you determine your dog's breed history ($125). You can also buy a health screening test for your dog or your cat ($125) which performs a series of tests for genetic diseases and traits.

Explore HomeDNA Kits and Deals
images

Ancestry DNA

Ancestry is the big name in DNA services, in large part because of its ongoing affiliation with the Mormon Church and their fascination with genealogical record keeping. Its offerings pre-date its DNA testing. The Ancestry.com service is a separate subscription service that offers access to a wide range of databases and research resources.

Ancestry.com also offers a family tree tool that is free, and users of the AncestryDNA service can link their results into the free (and very well done) tree management service. The test kit gathers saliva from spit and has an added $9.95 shipping charge.

If you're a true DNA geek, Ancestry may not be the service for you. That's because it doesn't offer a chromosome browser, so you can't really do DNA segment comparisons. Ancestry does allow downloading of your full DNA profile at no extra charge, so you can import that data into another tool.

We liked that Ancestry stores your results forever, has a strong genealogical community and excellent family matching features. DNA reports don't provide tremendous detail, but DNA results are segmented into 150 geographic regions, the most detailed geographic granularity of any of the services we've profiled.

Explore Ancestry DNA Kits and Deals
livingdna

Living DNA

  • Price: $99
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA
  • Match Database: Just getting started
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 638,000

Living DNA is a UK-based genomics firm that offers autosomal DNA data, as well as a breakdown of matrilineal and patrilineal lines. DNA data is gathered through a mouth swab. We liked how shipping for the test kit is free.

If you're looking for a DNA service that can match you to other possible relatives throughout the world, Living DNA is not the service for you. While Living DNA is beginning to build up a family match database, there's nothing there now to work with.

On the other hand, Living DNA's test is quite comprehensive if you're researching your background without regard to finding long-lost cousins. The company tests 638,000 autosomal SNPs, 22,500 Y chromosome SNPs and 17,800 X chromosome SNPs, along with 4,700 mitochondrial SNPs.

Of particular interest to those looking backwards throughout their history, Living DNA tracks DNA to 80 geographic regions, and, for those of you with a UK family history, can even can provide an map of where your ancestors lived on the islands.

Although it's not something we were able to test, Living DNA says its tools allow you to upload DNA data from other services and predict relationship matches based on that data.

Explore Living DNA Kits and Deals
genographic

National Geographic Geno DNA Kit

  • Price: $199.95
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA
  • Match Database: 230,000
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 700,000

If you're more interested the societal aspects of your genetic makeup than finding family connections, the National Geographic Genographics Project may well be a fascinating service to participate in.

While the Genographics Project labs are run by the same Gene-by-Gene firm that runs Family Tree DNA, test results are aimed at helping you trace your ancestors, not just down your mother's and father's line, but also based on chromosomal markers, to help you gain insights into ancestors who may not have been on your direct parental lines.

If you're more interested in answering questions like "Where did I come from?" and "How far back can I trace my DNA?" rather than "Who was my great, great, great grandfather?" then this test may be for you. As with anything affiliated with National Geographic, you can be sure you'll learn something new and the journey will be fascinating.

Explore National Geographics Geno DNA Kit
familytree

Family Tree DNA

  • Price: $79 (plus $12.95 shipping)
  • Tests: Autosomal (other tests sold separately)
  • Match Database: 850,000
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 700,000

Family Tree DNA is operated by Houston-based genetic testing lab Gene-by-Gene. Gene-by-Gene also provides testing services for MyHeritage DNA and operates the Genomics Research Center for National Geographics Genographic Project, both of which we also profile in this directory.

As you might imagine from a company run by a DNA testing lab, Family Tree DNA offers a wide range of tests. The basic autosomal test is $79 (plus $12.95 shipping), and is conducted with a cheek swab. Other tests adding additional sequences and markers, along with father's line and mother's line tests, are available. If you go all in on tests, you could be spending upwards of $500 and more.

Our impression is that Family Tree DNA offers considerable DNA analysis services, but the more in-depth you get, the more it will cost. If you are interested in doing in-depth analysis, the firm offers a chromosome browser, allows raw data to be uploaded, provides support for setting different segment matching thresholds, and allows up to five comparisons to be done at once.

Family Tree DNA allows trial transfers from 23andMe and AncestryDNA into its match database, but additional transfers of various datasets do incur a transfer fee. The company promises to keep data for 25 years.

Explore Family Tree DNA Kits and Deals
africanancesty

African Ancestry

Although African Ancestry lost points for price, small match database, and limited community, it gained points because of its deep regional analysis. It's a fascinating, specialized service for individuals looking at exploring their African ancestry.

Rather than a match database of individuals, African Ancestry has the world's largest database of African lineages. The company can trace your ancestry back to a region in Africa and then pinpoint which present-day country that it's in. It can also dive deep into history and help you find your ethnic groups of origin, often dating as far back as 500 years ago.

Unfortunately, the tests can get quite expensive. The company sells a maternal test kit and a paternal test kit, each for $299 (although shipping is free). If you want to trace your family back both through male and female ancestors, you'll be spending nearly $600. On the other hand, if you're looking for your African family history, the depth of analysis is unique among the services we profiled.

Explore African Ancestry DNA Kits and Deals
fullgenome

Full Genomes

  • Price: $695 (more in-depth tests additional)
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA
  • Match Database: None
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 71,000

You can kind of get a feel for Full Genomes by visiting their home page. Their slider advertises "Payment Plans Available!" Yeah. So these folks are a lot more expensive than the previous providers they profiled.

Full Genomes has no family match database. You can spend thousands of dollars with these folks. Testing is done with a cheek swab and there's $25 shipping charge for a test kit.

So, for the price, is there any standout benefit? That depends on what you want. While the number of autosomal SNP variations is relatively small, at 55,000 SNPs, they have the largest library of Y-chromosome SNPs. So. if you want to deeply explore your patrilineal background, this might be an option for you.

Explore Full Genomes DNA Kits and Deals
dnatribes

DNA Tribes

  • Price: $119
  • Tests: Autosomal STR
  • Match Database: 560,000
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: NA

DNA Tribes tests autosomal STRs (short tandem repeats) rather than SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). STR is often used in forensic analysis and provides a different type of DNA analysis from our other profiled providers.

DNA Tribes cross-references your results to 1,200 ethnic groups and 32 regions. The company provides a detailed result analysis designed to help you understand your ethnic lineage. There's very limited community support and while the company analyzes results against its comprehensive match database, those results are not oriented around helping you find fellow family members.

Although nearly all the services profiled provide rich information about how to do genealogical analysis and understand the data, we were particularly fascinated by the detailed articles published on the company's site that discuss worldwide genetic structure and relationships. The articles are free to download even if you haven't ordered DNA Tribes' tests and are well worth downloading and reading. 

Explore DNA Tribes Kits and Deals

Read More:

23andMe wins FDA approval

23andMe donating DNA kits to reunite immigrant families