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Wellness

The best DNA testing kits for 2019

Looking for the best DNA test kits you can buy right now? Here are your best options.

Home DNA testing has gone from a niche pursuit to a simple way to map out your family tree. A DNA test can be used to determine paternity and research ancestry or familial origin. And over the past few years, they've become quite affordable, with a wide range of companies selling DNA test kits -- from trailblazers such as Ancestry and 23andMe to upstarts that include LivingDNA

Read: What AncestryDNA taught me about DNA, privacy and the complex world of genetic testing

There's a lot you can learn from a NDA test. In addition to deepening your understanding of ancestry, some services will introduce you to relatives around the world or shed light on your predisposition to specific health issues and diseases. Here we present to you our roundup of the nine top DNA testing kits and services -- what they offer, how they work and how much they cost. 

We'll update this story in coming weeks as we continue our in-depth testing of these service. In the meantime, the ones included here are the most popular as determined by Google keyword search rankings. 

Looking for more in-depth info on DNA testing services in general? Jump to our explainer.

DNA tests, compared

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


23andme

23andMe

  • Price: $99 or $199 with health info (plus $9.95 shipping)
  • Tests: Autosomal (see what this means), Y-DNA, mtDNA, Health
  • Match Database: 8 million
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 650,000

Named for the 23 chromosomes found in human cells, 23andMe offers a battery of tests, including some that analyze health risks. (It was these tests that attracted attention from the FDA.)

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 that medical results cost another $99.

The added expense may be worth the money; the additional information 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.

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. The service's matrilineal and patrilineal line testing can geolocate your DNA ancestry in more than 1,000 regions. 

(Appropriate for a genomics company, 23andMe's executive ranks contain some interesting familial relationships: CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki is the former wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin and sister of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.)


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Ancestry DNA

  • Price: $99 (plus $9.95 shipping)
  • Tests: Autosomal
  • Match Database: 5 million
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 650,000

Ancestry is the big name in DNA testing, in part because of its ongoing affiliation with the Mormon Church and its fascination with genealogical record keepingAncestry.com offers access to a wide range of databases and research resources.

The test kit gathers saliva from spit. It offers a free family tree tool to which users can contribute their specific results. You can also download your full DNA profile and import that data into another tool -- but it doesn't offer a chromosome browser, so you can't really do DNA segment comparisons. Given this, if you're a true DNA geek, Ancestry may not be the service for you.

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.


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 operates the Genomics Research Center for National Geographics' Genographic Project, which is also profiled in this roundup.

Family Tree DNA offers a wide range of tests. The basic autosomal test costs $79 (plus shipping) and is conducted with a cheek swab. You can add sequences and markers, and your father's line and mother's line tests, but the it will step up the price considerably. 

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; additional transfers of various datasets is available for a fee. The company promises to keep data for 25 years.


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MyHeritage

MyHeritage

  • Price: $79 
  • Tests: Autosomal (other tests sold separately)
  • Match Database: 102 million
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 710,000

Offering DNA test kits and a range of online subscription services, MyHeritage says that its database includes more ethnicities -- that's 42 -- than any other major testing service. The free 14-day trial will let you poke around the company's massive online database which includes 3.5 billion profiles in addition to information about over 100 million subscribers and their collective 46 million family trees. 

Starting at $79, the company's DNA test kit is competitively priced and covers the basics: A simple cheek swab will give you an analysis of your ethnic origins and the identification of relatives who share your DNA. In addition to MyHeritage's free basic subscription, which will let you assemble a family tree up to 250 people, there are other packages that accommodate larger trees, advanced DNA features and more robust research tools. The company allows you to upload test data from other companies.

MyHeritage says that it has also sold more than one million DNA kits -- but its enormous database is largely powered by Geni.com, a genealogy social media site, that has assembled "the world's largest, scientifically vetted family tree," according to the New York Times. (MyHeritage is Geni.com's parent company.) 


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 Walmart stores in addition to CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens pharmacies.

HomeDNA offers a range of ancestry services priced between $69 to $199. Though the jury is still out about the effectiveness of specialty tests, HomeDNA also sells 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).

Dog owners can buy a test to help you determine your pooch's breed history for $125. You can also buy a $125 health screening for your dog or cat that includes a series of tests for genetic diseases and traits.

Testing is done with a mouth swab. Shipping is free. And results are kept for 25 years.


genographic

National Geographic Geno DNA Kit

  • Note: This service is no longer available
  • Tests: Autosomal, Y-DNA, mtDNA
  • Match Database: 230,000
  • Autosomal SNPs tested: 700,000

National Geographic ended the public participation phase of its genographic research project on May 31, 2019. Its Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry kits are no longer available for purchase. According to the company's website: "If you have already purchased a kit, you may still send it in for processing in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of sale."

National Geographic plans to maintain the database where customers can access their results online, until the end of 2020. You can learn more about the project on National Geographic's website.


africanancesty

African Ancestry

African Ancestry can't compete on price or the size of its match database, but it does offer deep regional analysis. It's a worthy specialized service for individuals looking at exploring 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 its location today. It can also dive deep into history and help find original ethnic groups that may date back as long as 500 years ago.

But the tests can get quite expensive. The company sells a maternal test kit and a paternal test kit for $299 each (shipping is free). If you want to trace your family back both through male and female ancestors, it'll cost you about $600. Still, for African family histories, the depth of analysis is unique among the services we profiled.


fullgenome

Full Genomes

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

The Full Genomes service is so expensive, it offers a payment plan. But the service offers the largest library of Y-chromosome SNPs around. So if you want to explore your patrilineal background, this is the most comprehensive option on the market. There's no family match database, however. 

Testing is done with a cheek swab. The company charges $25 for shipping.


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. 

Living DNA has a very limited family match database, so if you're looking for a service that can match you to relatives around the world, this is not the one for you. But Living DNA's test is quite comprehensive: it tests 638,000 autosomal SNPs, 22,500 Y chromosome SNPs and 17,800 X chromosome SNPs, along with 4,700 mitochondrial SNPs.

And the service tracks DNA to 80 geographic regions. Those with a UK family history will see a map of where ancestors lived on the islands. Though we didn't test it first hand, Living DNA says its tools allow you to upload DNA data from other services to predict relationship matches.


DNA testing: What you need to know

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 DNA 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. 

Four 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 to which you are genetically predispositioned. 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.


This story was originally published last July and is updated periodically.

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CNET's Justin Jaffe contributed to this story.