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Use this guide to learn how two leading DNA testing services cover the key facts worth knowing, as well as a breakdown of testing processes, pricing plans and the procedures in place to protect your personal information.
A quick review: MyHeritage and 23andMe
|Description||Find out if you have unknown relatives from around the world, or if you're at risk of genetic health risks.||Explore your ethnic heritage and discover long-lost relatives with the help of the self-swap DNA test.|
|DNA collection type||Saliva||Cheek swab|
|Result in||6-8 weeks||3-4 weeks|
|Price per kit||From $145||From $139 (plus shipping)|
|Database size||10 million||2.4 million|
|Genetic traits report?||Yes||Yes|
|Geographic regions||2,000 +||2,100 +|
|Downloadable raw data?||Yes||Yes|
|Family tree software||Yes||Yes|
The collection methods for both 23andMe and MyHeritage are relatively simple.
23andMe will send over a test tube and clear instructions with your kit. Before you do anything, it's important to register your tube's barcode with 23andMe. This will make sure that when it arrives back at the lab for testing, they know where to send the results.
To provide a sample, you'll need to spit into the test tube, enough to reach the clearly market 'fill line'. Then, add the stabilization buffer supplied in the kit. This helps to protect your DNA sample as it makes its way to the lab. Replace the cap, place your sample into the plastic bag provided, and send it back to 23andMe using the prepaid postage label.
MyHeritage uses a different type of sampling to collect your DNA. Like 23andMe, the first step is to register your kit online using the unique bar code. In your testing kit, you'll find two unopened swabs and vials. Using the swabs, you'll need to scrape the inside of one of your cheeks for between 30 to 60 seconds. When you're done, open the vial, insert the swap and follow the detailed instructions to break the swab. This should leave the end of the swab inside the protected vial. Next, repeat with the other cheek. Then, all that's left to do, is ship the samples back to MyHeritage for testing.
MyHeritage tests the autosomal DNA, which covers the maternal and paternal lineage of a person. Simply put, autosomes are the 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes in humans. These contain a mix of DNA from members on both sides of your family. Testing the autosomal DNA provides information on up to seven generations. It can give an estimate of what parts of the world your ancestors originated from and if you're prone to any genetic health risks.
23andMe also uses autosomal testing. However, it goes a step further by testing three types of DNA linked to genetic genealogy. In addition to autosomal DNA, it also tests a person's yDNA and mtDNA.
- yDNA. The Y chromosome is a sex chromosome responsible for male development. The Y chromosome DNA test discovers the paternal lineage. If you're a biological woman, the lab won't be able to do testing on yDNA.
- mtDNA. Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA found in the mitochondria. Since the mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, testing this DNA reveals a person's maternal ancestry.
The labs will look at DNA inherited from both sides of the family then compare it to other samples to determine ethnicity. Despite the difference in testing, both 23andMe and MyHeritage can tell you about your ancestors and their migration patterns with the information revealed.
MyHeritage has an intricate database for Ethnicity Estimate that covers 42 ethnicities. This database helps to pinpoint a person's ethnicity even if their ancestors migrated from another country. Its Genetic Groups feature offers insights into your ancestors' past geographic locations and migration patterns and covers more than 2,100 geographic regions.
Similarly, 23andMe covers 2,000 regions worldwide with representation for 45 regional populations. The regions are European, Central Asian, South Asian, East Asian, Native American, West Asian, North African, Sub-Saharan African, Melanesian and recent ancestry in the Americas.
23andMe's DNA reports include more than 2,000 global regions, and the company already has more than 5 million genotyped customers worldwide. MyHeritage has a database size of 2.4 million with 4.2 billion people in family trees.
The importance of an extensive database can not be underestimated, especially if you're hoping to unlock your family tree, or search for potential unknown family members. Having a larger database gives a company a more complete set of data and genetic markers, ultimately helping to create more accurate results.
23andMe not only provides reports on your ancestry timeline, but also any inherited traits you might have gained from your heritage. Your report will include detailed insights into your personalised characteristics and features. This can include unique quirks like having an aversion to cilantro, or what your favourite ice-cream flavour might be. 23andMe can also explore your genetic connections to famous historical figures or even your link to Neanderthals.
However, the value of 23andMe lies in its ability to provide information on genetic health risks and carrier status. If you choose this option, your results come with genetic counselling advice and actionable insights.
In some ways, MyHeritage's ethnicity estimate is more insightful as it breaks the world down into 42 ethnic regions. It then matches your ethnicity to a native population to discover your ancestors' origins. Results from its Genetic Groups indicates the potential geographic regions or specific groups that you descend from. If you want to do further research into your ancestry, MyHeritage has 13 billion historical records you can access with its premium subscription.
Both companies allow you to build a family tree with your results and access an optional online network to find matches and compare ancestries and traits. If you wish to read your results or build your Family Tree in a language other than English, MyHeritage supports 42 languages. Finally, both companies allow you to download your raw genetic data.
23andMe typically takes six to eight weeks to process your sample. When your results are ready, you'll be notified via email, and then you can log into the portal to view them.
The processing time for MyHeritage is comparatively quicker. Once your sample arrives at the lab, MyHeritage takes approximately three to four weeks to process your sample.
With MyHeritage, you can get your hands on a DNA testing kit for $139, excluding shipping charges. If you're hoping to delve deeper into your family tree, you may want to sign up for the Complete Plan. This gives you access to a wide range of premium features including an unlimited family tree, access to 12.5billion historical records, the ability to colourise black and white photos and priority email support.
23andMe offers different services starting at $145 with the Ancestry kit. Choosing this kit will give you results about where your family line may have started, an analysis of your maternal and paternal lines and information about your DNA relatives.
If you are looking for a premium kit, you can opt for the Health and Ancestry service for $300. In this case, the results will include everything you get with the Ancestry kit, plus information about health-related genetics. With the premium kit, you can also benefit from in-depth wellness and trait reports along with information around your carrier status.
Privacy and security
Both companies take privacy and security very seriously and promise to never sell any information that they collect from you. To track your DNA sample, they both use a unique bar code, which means the results can't be traced to one individual.
During the kit registration with 23andMe, you'll be prompted to review the Consent document for Sample Storage and Additional Genetic Analyses. Here, you will have the option to store your sample via Biobanking or to have it destroyed once the laboratory has done its work.
If you do opt into its research program, the lab strips your genetic information of any personally-identifying information. It is stored with your survey response data and assigned a randomised research identification number.
You can use your profile settings on MyHeritage to change your privacy preferences. Here, you can choose whether to have your DNA matched (i.e. helping other users to find relatives based on shared genetics), or not.
If you want to volunteer your results to research, you will need to sign an Informed Consent. Alternatively, you can contact Member Services and request to have your sample destroyed after testing.
Both MyHeritage and 23andMe offer very different features, and the one you choose will ultimately depend on the type of DNA service that you're seeking.
If you're hoping to build a detailed family tree and map your ancestry, MyHeritage may be your best choice. With a large database and billions of historical records to access, MyHeritage could be of great help to your research.
However, if you are looking for a comprehensive report of your health and genetic risks, 23andMe provides you with that. A standard health report from 23andMe includes genetic health risks, how your body processes certain medications and whether you carry genetic variants that may impact your health or your family.
The report also informs you of actionable insights and counselling. With its ethnicity report, 23andMe has a fun feature where you can find interesting traits like cheek dimples, mosquito bite frequency, wake-up time and more.
If all you want is an ancestry report with a health report's inclusion then, for us, 23andMe is the more substantial choice given its larger database and more specific results.
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Frequently asked questions
Will a DNA test hurt?
No, many of the genealogical testing companies do not require a blood sample. You can provide a saliva sample by spitting into a test tube or using a cotton swab to scrape the inside of your cheek.
Can I have my sample destroyed after I receive my results?
How can I find my paternal lineage if I'm a woman?
Biological females don't inherit the Y-chromosomes from their fathers, which means the lab cannot test for paternal lineage. However, you could still get this information by asking a close male relative, either your brother or father, to take a DNA test instead.
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