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Published: May 12, 2023 19 min read
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DNA testing kits have become increasingly popular for their ability to provide insight into ancestry and health. People are discovering long-lost relatives or unexpected links to famous people, as well as surprising facts about their own heritage.

They're also learning whether they may carry genes related to specific health conditions. If any such issues are identified, such as a predilection for Parkinson's Disease, cancer or heart disease, preventive measures and therapies can be pursued with healthcare providers.

With a side-by-side comparison of the most popular DNA testing kits, the information below covers what each is best for, its price, customer satisfaction, and more.

Our Top Picks for Best DNA Testing

AncestryDNA — Best for Most DNA Matches

FamilyTreeDNA — Best for Deep Heritage Analysis

MyHeritage — Best for Finding Relatives Worldwide

Nebula Genomics — Best for Complete Genome Sequencing

23andMe — Best Family Tree Builder

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Best DNA Testing Reviews

Why we chose it: AncestryDNA has one of the most extensive databases of all DNA test kit providers, with 56,280 profiles worldwide.

Pros
  • Large consumer DNA network
  • Ancestry and ethnicity estimates for over 77 regions and groups
  • Testing facilities certified by third-party regulators
  • Reliable security for DNA test samples and results
Cons
  • Proprietary testing method
  • Doesn't offer Y-chromosome DNA or mtDNA testing
  • Won't accept data from other services

AncestryDNA testing functions separately but is a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, a well-established online genealogical resource. AncestryDNA’s testing provides users with information on the likely geographic origins of their ancestors broken down in percentages. While AncestryDNA keeps its exact testing methodology unknown, claiming proprietary techniques and equipment, they don't offer exclusive Y-chromosome or mtDNA results.

Pricing is slightly above average, with three different kits that provide varying access levels to Ancestry’s DNA testing and genealogical services. The basic test offers only DNA test results, but the higher tiers also provide access to historical and biographical databases. You can expect results in about eight weeks, putting them toward the back of the pack as to test result turnaround speed.

In addition to keeping results encrypted, AncestryDNA tests all samples in secure laboratory facilities, and all samples are labeled with a unique code kept separate from any identifying information. Customer reviews on major online retailers are consistently high, in the range of 4.6 to 4.8 out of 5 stars, with many customers making repeat purchases for friends and family members.

Though negative reviews were uncommon, a drawback some customers mentioned was AncestryDNA's refusal to accept data from other DNA testing services.

Why we chose it: FamilyTreeDNA has the most comprehensive option for testing both the maternal and paternal sides of your family tree.

Pros
  • Ships test kits to most countries
  • Stores DNA samples for 25 years so additional tests can be run at a later date
  • Tests the DNA of both mothers (mtDNA) and fathers (Y chromosome)
Cons
  • Much smaller database than competitors
  • Customer privacy concerns
  • Doesn't always require a warrant for searches of their records by law enforcement agencies

FamilyTreeDNA is one of the few DNA testing services on the market to offer comprehensive DNA testing, including autosomal testing, which focuses on non-sex, numbered chromosomes, mtDNA, and Y chromosome DNA testing for insight into both your maternal and paternal lineage. The three types of analysis offer a complete picture of your history across time and geography.

Though it’s reasonably priced and has a dedicated customer base in parts of Europe and the Middle East, it isn’t without its detractors. The company changed its Terms of Service to allow law enforcement agencies unrestricted access to their records (except in some cases), including customer data but did not notify its customers of this change.

Because of this, and because FamilyTreeDNA’s parent company, Gene-by-Gene, performs lab services for the FBI, some people prefer to avoid the company amidst claims of privacy violations. That said, the company maintains adequate security with encrypted identity keys, which prevent unauthorized access in the event of a data breach, and an average test turnaround time of two to four weeks.

Why we chose it: MyHeritage emphasizes discovering and uniting distant family members. It also offers anonymous connections to relatives who might be identified through their system.

Pros
  • Basic, free access to family tree tools
  • Accepts data transfers from other DNA testing companies
  • More records from diverse ethnic groups than some other testing companies
  • Extensive European user base
Cons
  • Online platform can be slow
  • Online messaging through the platform isn't guaranteed privacy
  • Unclear pricing and feature structure
  • Allows law enforcement access without requiring a court order

MyHeritage offers a free tier of service with some impressive perks. It includes access to functional, albeit somewhat rudimentary, family-tree-builder software and limited access to a database of historical documents, such as census and immigration records.

Their DNA testing services include an analysis of your genetic makeup across a wide array of ethnic groups, including Semitic and African ethnicities that other DNA testing companies underserve. Unlike many other DNA testing companies, MyHeritage will make DNA testing kits available to people in most countries, with just a few authoritarian nations barred from participation over fears of how DNA data might be misused.

Although MyHeritage provides greater insight and substantially different analysis services, they outsource their testing to FamilyTreeDNA. As a result, MyHeritage has a similar turnaround time — two to four weeks — and allows law enforcement to access data. It should also be noted that messaging on the platform should not be considered private, as MyHeritage reserves the right to screen messages for prohibited content.

Why we chose it: Nebula Genomics is the only DNA service that we reviewed that offers whole-genome sequencing.

Pros
  • Whole-genome sequencing maps out 100% of a customer's DNA
  • Stringent guaranteed privacy and security policies
  • Customer access to "big data"
  • Updates reports as new scientific data come to light
Cons
  • Most expensive offering on this list
  • Findings can be bewilderingly thorough
  • No genetic counseling in the event of adverse DNA test findings

Nebula Genomics offers the most thorough and complete DNA testing of any company reviewed here with whole-genomic sequencing. That thoroughness comes at a price, and Nebula is the most expensive offering we reviewed. This company is all about science, and that’s both a plus and a minus. Nebula promises complete sequencing and reports with minute detail and deliver on both points.

The company provides stunningly complete data, including the latest health and disease findings and how they may relate to your genetic makeup. Your report will even provide access to raw data formats such as VCF files for download and independent analysis. However, Nebula doesn’t offer any of the “soft” features others on our list do, such as family tree builders or access to a database of potential relatives.

Test results will take 12 to 14 weeks. Security is very high, with encrypted and “identity agnostic” record storage, which is something of a standard for the industry. The company will also forward reports as new medical research identifies genetic traits that may impact the test subject's health profile.

Nebula Genomics customers provide consistently positive reviews via various third-party platforms and special interest forums, with good ratings on consumer advocacy websites. Despite these positive ratings, many customers say that though accurate, the reports are so complete they can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.

Why we chose it: 23andMe’s ethnicity analysis is considered one of the best in the business, making it an excellent choice for those seeking to understand their lineage fully.

Pros
  • Most accurate ethnicity results of leading DNA testing firms
  • Ancestry composition maps come complete with chromosome maps for added insight
  • Provides both medical and trait reports
Cons
  • Medical trait reports cost more than the basic DNA testing offering
  • DNA data sharing is opt-in only
  • Doesn't accept raw data transfers from other testing agencies

23andMe provides both comprehensive medical genetic analysis and heritage and ethnicity data. However, medical data is only available as a higher tier of service. Similarly to Nebula Genomics, 23andMe favors a science-forward approach that emphasizes hard data and medical science over split-percentage ethnicity tracing. Though it won’t accept data transfers from competitors, the company does allow customers to link data documenting family connections or other genealogical records.

This has made the platform a standout for anyone looking to correlate existing information from other platforms. Customers interested in constructing accurate family trees with all available data can use 23andMe to make the process easier and convenient.

The accuracy of the company’s haplogroup testing, which focuses on determining links to different ethnicities or individuals within ethnic groups, is agreed on by independent third-party reviewers to be one of the best in the business. It should be noted that 23andMe offers two tiers of testing, with medical trait reports only available through the more expensive option.

Health, family history, and character traits are the three key areas that 23andMe breaks down its findings into. You can learn about your ancestry, including your Neanderthal heritage, maternal and paternal lineages, and more, using information from the direct ancestry and features test. You can find people who are a DNA match by using the company's match database, which contains over 10 million profiles. DNA comparisons are only available among records whose owners have opted-in, potentially limiting search results.

The company assures confidentiality and privacy, as with most DNA testing companies. Test results take four to six weeks, making it one of the faster DNA testing companies in terms of turnaround. Customer reviews are mostly positive, with some negative reviews citing DNA testing results that contradicted word-of-mouth family histories. But be aware that genealogists know such histories to be often inaccurate or embellished over the years.

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Other DNA testing companies we considered

While evaluating DNA testing companies for closer review, we kept a list of companies with competitive offerings which failed to distinguish themselves otherwise. These companies may be suitable for some consumers but may lack some of the features of the more prominent names reviewed above.

SelfDecode

SelfDecode is unique in that it doesn’t offer DNA testing services directly. Instead, it accepts any DNA data from a verifiable source. Once your data is uploaded, you can run various health-related tests against your genetic record and immediately receive results. Comprehensive reports include actionable items related to possible health or disease risks, but these are only available through a subscription.

Pros
  • Detailed and customized reports
  • Many varied medical screening tests
  • Accepts data from any competitor service
Cons
  • No in-house DNA testing service
  • Higher cost than many competitors
  • Requires a subscription plan

LivingDNA

LivingDNA offers industry-unique insights into African, European, and British Isles genetic groups. Where some of the other services may have a slight North American bias, LivingDNA can provide more diverse groups of ethnicities with valuable insight into their paternal and maternal heritage thanks to a database of genetic records carefully curated to include records some other companies may overlook. Ultimately, it failed to make the list because of higher costs and more limited features.

Pros
  • Provides "500-year" ancestry results
  • Offers pinpoint geographic accuracy of family origins
  • Offers health and wellness screening
Cons
  • Slightly higher cost than some competitors
  • Smaller overall database of records
  • More limited customer support options

Embark

This is admittedly a bit of a novelty on this list, as it’s the one DNA testing service intended for a clientele made up exclusively of dogs, or rather, their owners. Still, the mere existence of Embark is a testimony to how far the field of direct-to-consumer DNA testing has come. Embark provides comprehensive DNA testing, including screening for over 200 known diseases, exclusively for dogs. Given the lack of doggy historians, verifying results can also be difficult. It’s included here because many people are enthusiastic about discovering the breed mix of, for example, their rescue pet.

Pros
  • Results in as little as three weeks
  • Screens over 350 dog breeds to identify a pet's breed mix
  • Provides the most comprehensive veterinary DNA health screening available
Cons
  • Some users report seemingly inaccurate test results
  • Data can be complicated and difficult to understand

DNA Testing Guide

What is DNA testing?

DNA testing is a process that uses an individual’s genetic material to identify characteristics such as ancestry and health risks. It involves taking a sample of a person’s DNA, typically through a saliva or blood sample, and then analyzing it against a database of genetic information.

The average person can use DNA testing to learn more about their ancestry and family history by providing data about their ethnic or racial background. DNA testing can also identify potential health risks and help people make informed decisions about their lifestyle and diet. Additionally, DNA testing can be used to identify likely relatives and even reunite long-lost family members.

How does DNA testing work?

DNA testing looks at small sections of your genetic code, which comprises hundreds of thousands of components called nucleotides. Though DNA comprises many nucleotides, the nucleotides themselves are made up of only four chemicals.

The four chemicals that make up nucleotides in DNA are adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine, represented as A, G, T and C. It is these four chemicals that form each strand of intertwined human DNA. The differences in the sequence of A, G, T and C and where they fall in relation to each other determine our specific genetic code.

Each person’s DNA is unique, containing information about everything from physical appearance to health risks. Researchers can figure out your ancestry and identify potential genetic health issues by comparing how the nucleotides in your DNA match up with other people’s DNA in their database.

What DNA testing can show

DNA testing can be used for various purposes, including confirming a person’s identity, determining paternity or maternity, determining a person’s risk for certain diseases, and helping to diagnose certain medical conditions. It’s also used in forensic science, such as in criminal investigations.

Ethnicity estimate

DNA testing is a safe and easy way for anyone to discover more about their ethnic roots. The process is noninvasive, (generally just swabbing the inside of your mouth for a sample of saliva) and results are generally available within a few weeks. It can be a great way for people to explore their heritage and better understand who they are.

All people have a unique genetic code from their parents that contains information about their ethnic background. DNA testing looks at this code and compares it to a database of references from around the world. This allows the test to determine which specific ethnicities a person is most closely related to.

Genetic matches

DNA testing is powerful for finding genetic donor matches through unique sequences. By comparing this sequence with those of potential donors, it’s possible to determine if a donor is a close enough match to be used for a particular medical procedure.

For example, if a patient needs a bone marrow transplant, DNA testing can be used to find a donor with a genetic sequence that closely matches the patient’s DNA. This process, called HLA or human leukocyte antigen matching, can significantly increase the chances of a successful transplant.

Family lineage

DNA testing offers the opportunity to trace your family lineage. By looking at the DNA we all inherit from our parents, scientists can determine where your ancestors may have come from, including their country of origin and even who your distant relatives might be.

The laboratory examines provided DNA samples to look for DNA segments shared among family members. By comparing the test results to large genetic information databases, scientists can trace back a person’s family lineage with varying degrees of accuracy depending on how conclusive test results are and how comprehensive the correlating database of other genetic records may be.

Migration history

DNA testing has become a popular way to uncover an individual’s ancestry and migration history. This type of testing has the potential to provide a fascinating insight into how our ancestors moved around the world.

For example, DNA testing can reveal which areas of the world your ancestors likely came from and when they moved. This can provide valuable insight into how your ancestors adapted to different climates and environments. It can also tell you which languages they might have spoken and which cultural practices they may have adopted.

DNA testing can also provide a deeper understanding of the relationships between different populations and how they have evolved. By comparing DNA samples, scientists can understand how people interact through intermarriage, war, and migration.

Family documents

DNA testing is a powerful method for verifying family documents. It can help confirm or refute relationships between family members and verify family documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, or adoption papers.

For example, if a birth certificate claims two people are siblings, a DNA test can help confirm this. The DNA test can also show clear relationships between other relatives such as great-aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-great-grandparents.

Genetic health risks

DNA testing can help you understand your genetic health risks. Scientists can identify markers associated with various diseases and health conditions through your unique genetic makeup. With this knowledge, you can better understand your risk for certain diseases and sometimes take preventive measures.

Once sequenced, scientists will compare your DNA with a database of known genetic markers associated with certain diseases. For example, suppose the test reveals a genetic marker associated with a higher risk of developing a specific condition.

Armed with these results, those who carry genes associated with diseases like cancer or heart disease can make lifestyle changes to potentially guard against future illnesses. For example, people predisposed to certain types of cancer can use DNA testing to identify their risk and work with their doctor to make lifestyle changes or take medication to reduce their risk. This might include changing your diet, exercising, or other preventive measures. It may also be possible to detect diseases that are not yet showing symptoms, allowing for early detection and treatment.

If possible we recommend getting pre-test counseling to better understand the results you may get and how to interpret them, as you may get back results you’re not prepared for or don’t know how to interpret. For instance, you may get back a positive result for a BRCA mutation, which gives an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. But your test may have only checked for a small number of the thousands of possible mutation variants, of which around 100 are associated with cancer. And, taken singly, the risk may be very small.

DNA Testing FAQ

How much does DNA testing cost?

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DNA testing costs vary depending on the complexity of the test and how complete the results are. DNA testing providers may also run sales or offer discounts. On average, you can expect to pay from $80 to around $120 for most DNA tests.

When did DNA testing start?

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DNA testing is a recent innovation. Before the invention of polymerase chain reaction, or PCR methods, comprehensive DNA testing wasn't possible. Kary Mullins invented PCR testing in the U.K. in 1986. It was made available to the public that same year. The first widely available DNA test online was an offshoot of National Geographic's 2005 Genographic Project.

How accurate is at-home DNA testing?

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This is a topic of heated and ongoing debate. Some researchers are quick to point out that humans are 99.9% identical in that we share the same DNA, and at-home DNA tests look at only the 0.1% that makes us different. Though all major testing companies claim differing degrees of accuracy, some DNA tests have been known to show false results. Repeat analysis can help refine results if conducted by different labs with different testing methodologies.

DNA test results linked to medical genetic data are considered more accurate than tests used to determine ethnicity, as ethnicity evaluation relies on datasets open to varying degrees of interpretation and accuracy.

Can law enforcement gain access to my DNA?

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Depending on the DNA testing company used, some law enforcement agencies may be able to access your DNA. Only two major companies, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch, allow unrestricted access to law enforcement. Other firms maintain they will only surrender customer data if legally forced to do so through a subpoena or other court-ordered mandate.

In most cases, law enforcement must obtain a subpoena before accessing someone's DNA from a DNA testing company. A subpoena is a court order approved by a judge that requires the company to hand over the requested information to the court or law enforcement agency. Familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your chosen service before providing a sample.

How We Chose the Best DNA Testing

Comparing such diverse offerings and price points involved significant research into how the various DNA testing labs operate and the differences in their policies and procedures. Among other metrics, we considered the following:

  • Price for basic and expanded testing
  • Types and completeness of genetic testing offered
  • Access to support for understanding results and health-related counseling
  • How long it took test results to be returned
  • A thorough review of all stated security procedures and policies
  • Review and comparison of consumer reviews and ratings by third-party consumer advocacy organizations

Summary of Money’s Best DNA Testing

AncestryDNA — Best for Most DNA Matches

FamilyTreeDNA — Best for Deep Heritage Analysis

MyHeritage — Best for Finding Relatives Worldwide

Nebula Genomics — Best for Complete Genome Sequencing

23andMe — Best Family Tree Builder