My Review of the 23andMe DNA Test

With a lot of changes going on, it’s time for a 23andMe review. This is a DNA test that I use and recommend to others. Here I will review some history and the key strengths and limitations of this test.

A Dual Focus on Health and Ancestry

23andMe began as a direct-to-consumer genetic health test. By looking for medically significant DNA markers identified in various published scientific studies, it measured your genetic risk for dozens of diseases.

I should add that the company has always cautioned that genetics are just one factor in whether or not someone actually develops a particular condition. And they now make it easy for users to connect with a genetic counselor to discuss their results.

In 2009, they introduced a revolutionary feature, now called DNA Relatives, that matched you with other people in the database who are genetically related to you. This launched the ancestry side of the test.

Autosomal DNA Testing for Genealogy

Unlike prior genetic genealogy tests that only traced the direct paternal or maternal lines, the 23andMe test examined “autosomal” DNA inherited from both parents.

It could identify genetic cousins from ANY branch of your family tree. Furthermore, it reported HOW MUCH DNA you shared and categorized your relationship, i.e. parent and child, full sibling, half sibling, first cousin, second cousin etc.

They also included an Ancestry Composition report to tell you the proportion of your DNA that came from different populations worldwide. That report is also capable of picking up Native American and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Now One of Several Recommended Autosomal Tests

Since then, three other companies have introduced similar ancestry tests. Family Tree DNA launched Family Finder in 2010 and Ancestry launched AncestryDNA in 2012. The latest one is MyHeritage. None of these tests include health-related reports; but each of the tests has unique strengths and limitations.

Since most people only take one test, there is not a lot of overlap in the three databases. So if you stop at one test, you risk missing out on important matches in the others. That’s why getting into all the major databases is an absolute must for adoptees seeking biological relatives. Serious genealogists are also taking advantage of all the tests.

23andMe Strengths

This DNA test has attracted a huge database. It’s the only DNA test to include FDA-approved health reports. And also reports your maternal haplogroup and (for males) your paternal haplogroup. As such, it is a good value.

Through some additional analysis, the Ancestry Composition report offers the most detailed breakdown of ethnic ancestry. For example, it can break Northwestern European into finer groupings such as British & Irish and French & German. Instead of just Southern European, it may show how much of that is specifically Italian.

They report the amount of shared DNA as a percentage, which most people find easier to understand than the more technical unit of centiMorgans. Your results let you see which segments on which chromosomes you share with others. You can see that in a table or in a visual representation known as a chromosome browser. 

You can also select a matching person and see the relatives you have in common. That is a valuable tool for those planning to use advanced family tree analyses such as triangulation.

Somewhat Lower Response Rates

Since some 23andMe users only tested for the health reports, you can expect a lower response rate when attempting to contact your matches for genealogy purposes. Yet the database is so huge that it still includes hundreds of thousands of genealogists.

What’s more, countless adoptees have reported success in finding birth parents and siblings through DNA matches they found at 23andMe. It’s an important tool that adoptees should not overlook.

Scientific Research

23andMe has always intended to use our COLLECTIVE genetic data for medical research through external research partners. Names and contact information are stripped out first.

You can opt out of the part known as the 23andMe Research project. Also note that answering their survey questions is voluntary.

Even so, some people object to their data being used for research without compensation. Personally, I would be thrilled if my genetic data played a small role in developing disease cures and more effective medical treatments.

Yes, 23andMe and their partners could eventually make a profit from this. But they would first have to risk millions of dollars in added research and testing.

If you are troubled by any issues related to the use of your genetic data, you can read the Research Consent Document and the Full Consent Document before you buy.

Overall, 23andMe remains one of my recommended tests.

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