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Important Things to Know About DNA Testing Companies

Kalicia Bateman
Kalicia Bateman | Contributor

The ability to identify and interpret the DNA sequence has given society insight into genetics and ancestry. In 1980, the first DNA genetic test was performed by biological scientists looking to further understand genetics. Since then, DNA testing has expanded into a global enterprise extending into consumers' homes.

Many companies have joined the movement to offer specific DNA services such as relative finder and trait discovery. The challenge is narrowing down the best company for you. Continue reading to find information about the DNA testing industry and frequently asked questions to help you navigate this growing industry.

The basics of DNA testing

DNA testing was originally used in the medical field to determine the likelihood of manifesting a specific genetic trait or disease. With these tests, you can determine your carrier status for a gene abnormality. This information provides a likelihood of passing these genes on to your children. Medical DNA tests use saliva, blood, skin, amniotic fluid, or hair to gather DNA and sequence the genetic code. 

Over the last 30 years, DNA testing companies have made testing cheaper and more available to the general public. You can now order a DNA test right to your home with a click of a button. The new DNA testing products serve specific purposes different from a traditional DNA test. The major objective of direct-to-consumer DNA tests is to uncover ancestry information. 

DNA testing limitations

Direct-to-consumer DNA testing has its limitations. Except for 23andme, most DNA testing cannot give you FDA-approved health results. 23andme produces results for a limited number of diseases such as the gene for breast cancer. If you are concerned about having a specific genetic trait, you should seek a medical-grade DNA test. 

DNA testing works by comparing all the previous tests that have been taken against your DNA test. While the sample size is growing every day, the database cannot accommodate all individuals equally until DNA testing becomes globally widespread. Some groups and ethnicities are currently underrepresented in DNA data servers. Certain ethnicities will not receive detailed results because of limited data information.

Individuals of European descent will receive more information from their DNA tests than individuals of Asian or African descent. In response, some DNA testing companies offer services for specific ethnicities such as African Ancestry. Individuals of African descent can take an African lineage test to determine their ancestors’ tribe. 

Types of DNA tests

DNA testing companies use different types of DNA tests to provide specific services. Direct-to-consumer testing uses three main types of tests: autosomal DNA testing, Y DNA test, and Mitochondrial DNA.

Autosomal DNA testing 

An autosomal test uses your non-sex chromosomes to determine your ethnicity estimate and  DNA matches (relatives). This test is based on the autosomal chromosomes that do not differentiate between the maternal and paternal lines. The results of an autosomal DNA test will be the same for males and females. 

Y DNA test (y-DNA) 

This Y DNA test focuses on the y chromosome. Males can take a Y DNA test to trace their paternal line. Since the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, men can use this test to trace back their direct patrilineal line for hundred to thousands of years. 

Mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA test)

The mtDNA test can be used for both males and females. This test traces matrilineal ancestry because mothers pass mtDNA on to each of their children. The mtDNA remains the same as it passes from mother to offspring. 

DNA testing services

Each DNA testing company will have slightly different objectives in analyzing your DNA. Some companies provide a basic package for ancestry services with additional upgrade features. Below are some of the major testing services you can expect from large DNA testing companies: 

Ancestry testing

Build your family tree with ancestry testing. This feature gives you an ethnicity estimate based on your DNA sample. You can see where your ancestors originated from and what DNA was passed on to you. 

Relative finder

The relative finder feature notifies you if it finds a DNA match. By opting in for this feature, you can discover living relatives who you may not know. Some individuals chose to disable this feature to maintain privacy.

Health and wellness testing

23andMe was recently approved by the FDA for health and wellness testing. This company can test for carrier traits such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, celiac disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. Few companies are approved by the FDA for DNA health testing. This does mean that other companies don’t offer these types of services. You can order wellness tests from companies such as 5strands and CRI genetics that give you insight into your nutrition, health, and allergies. 

DNA data upload

Some DNA testing companies will offer to upload your entire raw DNA data to be used for other services and purposes. You can use this raw data to find out more about your DNA by uploading your results to a third-party site for a closer examination. 

Taking a DNA test

Companies produce DNA testing kits that are user friendly to accommodate a wide variety of people. When you receive a DNA test kit in the mail, the kit will include a few specific items and instructions. The main item you will want to pay attention to is a small vial for your saliva. Before taking the test, avoid eating, drinking, or smoking 30 minutes. Although these substances will not alter the DNA, they could mask some of the code making it more difficult to read. Most medications will not interfere with the results except for chemotherapy. If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy, wait two weeks after your last round to take the test. 

The next step is simple — just spit into the test tube. Make sure you get enough spit so that the sample size is met. This is the most common method for at-home DNA testing. Some tests require that you take a cotton swab and gently scrape the inside of your cheek. After collecting the saliva sample, you will then box up your saliva sample and send it back to the company. The company will receive your sample and start coding and analyzing the process. You should receive your DNA test results within two to eight weeks depending on the company. Depending on the company, you will either receive a digital or physical copy of the results. 


Some companies offer a one-time fee for a test kit and others offer an additional subscription-based service. The subscription fee allows you to evaluate results as they change with an expanding database. The price of DNA testing kits varies between companies and services. Test kits prices vary between $19.99 to $499 depending on the services. 

If you are a student or teacher, you may be eligible for an educational discount. Keep an eye out for sales during the holiday season.

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DNA Testing Frequently Asked Questions

Will DNA test results be the same for siblings?

Siblings express different DNA sequencing codes, even when they are from the same parents. DNA is different for each individual unless you are an identical twin. Full siblings share about 50 percent of the same DNA code whereas half-sibling share about 25 percent. However, if you are taking a test such as Ancestry, you should find that you share the same family tree as a full sibling.

What are the potential risks?

The novelty of consumer DNA testing kits has left many wondering if they are safe. This new technology has not been around long enough to access the known risk. One major concern is identification security. Other than your thumbprint, DNA is the only other way to biologically identify an individual.

A major concern with privacy includes insurance companies using DNA data to discriminate against individuals predisposed to illness. The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits insurance companies from using your genetic code to determine your insurance premiums or service. However, this does not necessarily mean that your DNA code will never be used if there is a security breach.

Which DNA testing companies have the best privacy policies?

If you are worried about your privacy, read the company’s privacy policy before requesting a test. Companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry offer privacy policies stating that they will not hand over personal information to law enforcement. Some DNA testing companies share genetic information with large pharmaceutical companies as “de-identified aggregate data.” This means that the DNA data is shared without corresponding names and other identifying factors. Ancestry and 23andMe let you opt-out of using your information for research purposes.

Are DNA testing kits accurate?

The accuracy of a DNA test does not directly correlate with the genes you will express. Gene expression is largely based on environmental factors. Individuals who hold the gene for a specific disease or illness can use the results to live a more informative life.

However, just because you have the gene for breast cancer doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to get breast cancer. DNA testing is an instrument intended to give you insight into your heritage and genetics. DNA results should not be used to make medical decisions. These tests are meant to give you a snapshot of your overall health. The best use of DNA health results is to consult with your doctor and stay up-to-date with routine physicals.

Can I get a DNA test for my dog?

If you adopted your dog from a rescue clinic or the pound, you might be curious to know your dog’s family tree.  Companies have created test kits specifically designed for dog DNA. You can find out the exact breed of your dog. These tests are usually priced around $60 per kit. Select a dog DNA testing company that has a large database of dog breeds. This will provide you with an accurate representation of your dog’s breed.

What is the best DNA testing kit for me?

The best DNA testing kit will depend on your personal interests and goals. Do your research before selecting a DNA testing company. Read over DNA testing reviews by exploring the different companies’ websites and profiles. Find a company that targets your demographics and your DNA testing purposes.

If you want to learn more about your ancestry or your likelihood of developing a certain trait, evaluate your DNA testing kit options. A DNA test can reveal important information that can help you lead a happier and healthier life. And who knows, you might even find a long lost relative. 

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