The Helix DNA test is a revolutionary new approach to DNA testing. Having ordered the test, I am reporting on my experience through this page.
In simple terms I will explain how Helix is different and share my opinions about it as I learn more.
I have done, written about, and recommended the following genetic genealogy tests: Y-DNA testing, mitochondrial DNA testing, Family Finder and the Big Y test at Family Tree DNA, plus AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA and Living DNA.
First, Helix reads 100 times more data than any of the above DNA tests. That’s millions of data points on about 22,000 genes. This enormous amount of genetic data has the potential to unlock richer, deeper information for consumers in the future.
NOTE: Unlike other tests, you cannot download your own raw data from Helix. While the lack of a download option is different, it really is not a problem. That’s because there are currently no consumer programs for working with that much DNA data anyway.
Instead of reporting any results directly, the Helix DNA test simply provides a platform to sequence and safely store your DNA results. They allow partnering companies to sell “DNA-powered” products on the Helix website. When you order a product, Helix lets the supplier read only those regions of your stored DNA that are relevant to that product.
The overall concept lets you explore your DNA over a lifetime. You submit one sample with your first order. Later, you can order any DNA product that interests you, including future options that don’t exist yet. Since they have already sequenced the most informative parts of your DNA, you never have to submit another sample or wait for one to be processed.
NOTE: Like AncestryDNA and 23andMe, the Helix DNA test uses a spit kit to collect your saliva. This can be a problem for testing the very young, the very old, and anyone who has difficulty producing a large quantity of saliva. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage DNA use cheek swabs instead.
Helix currently offers two products relevant to your genetic ancestry. Neither one provides a list of genetic relatives, which is the most popular ancestry feature for genealogists and adoptees.
One ancestry product available through Helix is Geno 2.0 Next Generation by National Geographic. I have already done that test so I did not order it again through Helix.
Geno 2.0 provides a regional breakdown of your ethnic ancestry and identifies your maternal haplogroup. Men also learn their paternal haplogroup.
NOTE: 23andMe already provides the haplogroup(s), a more detailed breakdown of ethnic ancestry AND a list of genetic relatives. In my opinion the only good reason for ordering Geno 2.0 is to contribute to science.
Anyone who wants to identify subclades of their paternal haplogroup or see direct paternal or maternal line matches should do the Y-DNA or mtDNA tests at Family Tree DNA.
The second ancestry option on Helix is a Neanderthal test by Insitome.
You need to order at least one product when you order the Helix test. So this is the one I ordered.
Both Geno 2.0 and 23andMe provide some basic information about your Neanderthal ancestry. The Insitome test promises to reveal much more.
July 28, 2017: Ordered Helix DNA test with Inistome Neanderthal product.
August 4, 2017: Registered test kit online and mailed in my sample. Received email from Helix confirming registration and a separate Welcome email from Insitome inviting me to create my Insitome Profile.
August 6, 2017: Notified by email that my sample was received in the lab. Helix DNA results are expected in 6-10 weeks.
September 12, 2017. Notified by email that my Insitome results were ready.
According to Insitome, 1.2% of my DNA is Neanderthal DNA.
Beyond that, they examine 10 traits such as Pigmentation, Fat Storage, and Muscle Growth and Development and tell you whether you inherited the Neanderthal or Modern Human version of the tested traits. In my case two of those traits came from Neanderthals and eight came from Modern Humans.
They include a pretty clear summary of how and when Neaderthals and Modern Humans came into contact with each other. But that information is available elsewhere.
The most intriguing category of products to be offered through Helix are in the field of health and wellness.
Currently, the only well known direct-to-consumer testing company that offers genetic health information is 23andMe. Their Health + Ancestry service adds a large number of FDA-approved health reports, including carrier status reports.
Also, raw data from any of the current autosomal DNA tests can be run through third-party sites such as Promethease.com that compare your DNA with the findings of scientific publications.
The Helix platform already includes a couple of genetic health reports. Both are very specific, relatively expensive, and require involvement of an online physician.
More are certainly coming. The one partner that intrigues me is the Mayo Clinic. With their reputation, I would tend to consider their offerings more carefully than those of unknown startups.
NOTE: Most health conditions result from a mix of genetic risk factors, environmental influences and lifestyle choices. The presence or absence of certain variations in your DNA may not mean much in the real world.
The Internet is already awash in DNA tests claiming to provide personalized advice on issues such as nutrition, fitness, and skin care. Most experts scoff at such claims, since the science necessary to support conclusions in these areas simply isn’t there.
Helix provides the perfect platform for small companies to sell useless products based on wishful thinking. One product already available will suggest wines for you that are “scientifically selected based on your DNA.“ Really?
Helix may indeed be the platform of the future for many tests based on DNA. But for now—and possibly well into the future—the available offerings are mostly a waste of money.
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