23andMe is perhaps the most recognizable name in the home DNA tests industry. The company, named after the 23 chromosome pairs in humans, essentially founded the direct-to-consumer-genetic-tests when it was opened shop some 12 years ago. The company, serving clients in the USA, Canada and the UK, among others, boasts an astonishing number of 5m users to date. Read our comprehensive 23andMe review to learn more about what the company offers, and get our editorial opinion about them.
23andMe overview and basic data
|Can be used for||Genetic overview for health/fitness purposes, ancestry|
|DNA collection||Saliva sample|
|Number of SNPs tested||630132.00|
|DNA sample stored?||Yes|
|Price||$200 or equivalent|
|Platform matching for family||Yes|
|Geographical analysis of ancestry||Yes|
|Special features||Ancestry analysis, Neanderthal % in ancestry|
|Number of users||5000000.00|
|Ownership||Privately held by various investors, particularly Anne Wojcicki, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., The Roche Venture Fund, Google Ventures, and New Enterprise Associates|
|Address||899 W. Evelyn Ave., Mountain View, CA 94041|
|Website Address||www.23andme.com and local websites: www.23andMe.ca and www.23andme.co.uk|
|Client reviews||3,000+ available on bazaarvoice with 4/5 rating; Under 50 reviews on Yelp with rating of 1.5/5|
Company background for 23andme
23andMe is in a unique position in the direct to customer DNA test kits being the pioneer and being significantly larger than its competitors. The company was founded in April 2006 and has been growing at a staggering pace up to 500m users. The company has raised close to $500m in capital since its inception including a last round of $250m, and it is projected that it is valued in close to 2bn dollars. The founders of the company Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza and Anne Wojcicki are still heavily involved in the company. Anne Wojcicki is the CEO and has been voted one of the top 100CEOs of Glassdoor.
23andMe and the FDA
When 23andMe and other competitors starting operating in the direct genetic testing for consumers space, there was no regulation whatsoever in this space. It was a very niche product that the average person didn’t know and/or did not care much about. Over the course of time, as home DNA kits were gaining popularity, the FDA has shown its concerns about what they do and they went on a long regulation process. Then, the connection disconnected and 23andMe continued offering their services so they received a shutdown notice by the FDA. The case was eventually resolved and 23andMe were granted the permission to continue offering their tests, including their medical tests and specifically showing the chances of developing one of 10 conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
23andMe’s offering review
23andMe has only two offerings, the Ancestry Service and the Health + Ancestry Service. The Ancestry Service provides only information on ancestry information, such as your geographical genomic profile. The Health and Ancestry Service provides insights into genes related to health and wellness. The details of each package are below.
The Ancestry Service includes 2 main features. The first are your personalized Ancestry Reports. This test includes 5 reports which detail your general Ancestry Composition, your Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups, your Neanderthal Ancestry, and Your DNA Family. The first report is based on the similarities found in your Autosomal DNA to known genotypes. Your maternal and paternal haplogroups are measured through your mtDNA and Y-DNA, respectively. If you contain any traces of Neanderthal DNA, it will be found in the fourth report. The final report details which groups of people you share DNA with.
The second main feature of the Ancestry Service is the DNA Relative Finder. This entirely optional service allows your DNA to be matched to 23andMe’s database of millions of customers. Using this service, the company finds close and distant relatives. It even allows you to connect with these relatives, if they have also opted into the program. With the Ancestry Service, you get access to your raw data which you can use with a variety of third party companies.
The Ancestry Service is usually $99, but is currently on sale for $69. This includes a lifetime subscription to the platform. Also, if you later decide to get your Health reports, you can purchase this service later for and additional $125.
Health + Ancestry Service
This service includes all of the reports detailed in the Ancestry Service (above), plus a wide variety of health and medical genetics reports. There are 4 basic categories reports fall into: Genetic Health Risk reports, Carrier Status reports, Traits reports, and Wellness reports.
The Genetic Health Risk reports contain information on genes that have been shown to increase your risk of certain diseases. While having these genes only increases your risk of some diseases, 23andMe does offer some of the only FDA approve tests for finding these genetic variants. There are currently 5 of these reports available, with more on the way.
The Carrier Status report shows if your genetics have markers indicating you are a carrier for certain genetic diseases. These diseases, like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, are only triggered when a person has both copies of the disease-causing gene. Though you would know if you had one of these conditions, this report will tell you which, if any, genes you may carry.
The Trait report details genes you carry which relate to certain traits you have, such as male-pattern baldness and the ability to grow a unibrow. This report documents your genetics for over 25 traits. The Wellness reports include information on your genetics related to general health, such as sleep, weight, and food advice. These reports contain a variety of general healthy habits, and are tailored to your “genetic profile”.
The Health + Ancestry Service is typically $199, though it is currently on sale for $139. The service also allows you access to your raw data. Purchasing this package will save you save you around $50, if you purchased the Ancestry Service first, then later wanted access to the Health Reports.
What separates between 23andMe and other companies in that regard?
The wide variety of genetic tests offered by 23andMe is largely unmatched by other testing companies. Through this company, you can receive tests on your genetic health risk factors, your carrier status for certain diseases, and even trait reports and general wellness reports. 23andMe is aiming to be the go-to service for direct-to-consumer genetic testing, however it is not yet available worldwide.
23andMe, owned in part by Google, provides one of the most user-friendly platforms for understanding your genetic results. Through this online platform, you receive various reports about your genetics. If you purchase the Ancestry results as well as the Health package, you will have access to ancestry information as well. The platform includes many tools, including ones to connect with genetic family members and discover your geographic ancestry.
Though many genetic companies are ancestry-based, 23andMe can also review a significant number of medical and health related traits. In their health package, they test a large number of genes related to disease. They are one of the only companies to have FDA approval on some of their tests. Through their platform, you can look at your genetic health risks, carrier status for diseases like cystic fibrosis, and even traits known to be determined genetically. They also provide a wellness report, which gives generalized advice based partially on your genetics.
How it works, what will your kit include?
Like other companies, a collection tube is sent to your house for your saliva. Spit in the tube, and send it back to the lab. Within your spit will be enough cheek cells to analyze your DNA. The laboratory receives your sample, and takes 6-8 weeks to process it and provide you with results.
In analyzing your DNA, 23andMe uses technology that scans your DNA for known single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs. Checking hundreds of thousands of these SNPs, they match your genetics with known genotypes that match yours. This allows them to approximate with great accuracy, your exact genome without actually reading the whole thing. Though your whole genome is not sequenced (every nucleotide is not read), the genes you carry can be determined by the small matching pieces.
Depending on whether you selected the Health and Ancestry package, or opted for the Ancestry package alone, you will get access to these reports once the lab has processed your DNA sample. Simple login to the online platform and view your results.
Understanding the results
Genetic Health Risk Reports
You will find a number of reports on the 23andMe platform. The first is the Genetic Health Risk Reports, which explains which genes you carry that give you an increased risk for certain diseases. These genetic risks are based on researched associations between disease and genetics. While these reports can give you a small insight into which conditions you may be more likely to contract, they are by no means a diagnosis. Many of these associations increase your risk, but not by much.
Carrier Status Reports
In addition to checking your genetic risks, the platform provides Carrier Status Reports. A carrier is a person who carries 1 disease-causing allele. However, because there are 2 alleles for each gene, a carrier also has a regular, functioning allele. This allows them to live disease-free, but they still carry the deficient allele and have the chance of passing it on to their children. There are many recessive disorders for which you can be a carrier. 23andMe tests for many of these. This report can give you a heads up about which conditions you might carry, and help you plan a family.
Your Trait Reports will include information about your genetics which influence certain traits you have. Some of these traits may seem irrelevant, but they are associations which have been researched. Many of these traits are also controlled by a single gene, such as the ability to taste the bitter chemicals in broccoli and asparagus. Though you likely already know if you have the gene, this report can inform you which of your genes help control certain traits. This is a separate report because the information is typically not medical in any way.
The set of reports you can access are Wellness Reports, which will give you insights about how your unique genetics may be affecting your overall wellbeing. These include topics like sleep, weight, and muscle composition. These reports tell you how your genetics may affect these highly variable categories, though your genetics play only a small role. For instance, your body may have a genetic propensity to store fat, but you will only get fat if you eat too much and never exercise. These reports end with generic recommendations for better health “based on your genetics”. These include things like having a good diet and exercising regularly.
Will your data be shared?
23andMe has a whole page devoted to their privacy policies, and what they will do with your genetic data. The company does sell and distribute aggregated data. First, they strip the data of personally identifying information, then amass it together. The aggregate data is then sold and researched.
Your personal data is supposedly under your control, and the company offers many different services you can opt out of if you don’t want to share any data. Some of these features include searching for relatives on the platform, which requires you to share the information if you choose to contact a relative. You can use most features of the platform without sharing your personal information. The platform also allows you to opt out of your data being stored, if you so choose.
Media coverage and user opinions
23andMe has expanded drastically in recent years, as has its media coverage. Articles on the company are published weekly, if not daily when there is big news. As one of the first companies to receive FDA approval for a direct-to-consumer genetic test (shortly after receiving a warning from the FDA) the company is no stranger to making headlines. Here are some of the more interesting articles about 23andMe in mainstream media:
- Forbes – How To Grow And Scale A Culture Like 23andMe
- Inc magazine – 23andMe knows what diseases are in your DNA. Now, they are looking for the cures
- Business Insider – DNA-testing companies like 23andMe are selling your data
- Science news – What genetic tests from 23andMe, Veritas and Genos really told me about my health
- futurism – 23ANDME IS TEAMING UP WITH A PHARMA COMPANY. YOU SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED
According to their own website, their customers are satisfied with 4 of 5 stars. Most of the customers give them 5 stars, with a smaller percentage distributed between all of the other star levels.
On Amazon, with 1,000+ 23andMe reviews, 23andMe is rated 3.8/5 stars (true for Dec 9, 2018). 57% of the users thought the service deserves of 5 stars, but 20% thought it deserves of 1 star rating. Users who are happy with 23andMe have mentioned the following strong points:
- High level of security and data protection
- Easy to sign up and conduct the test
- Best ethnic origin analysis (more accurate than other companies)
- Relative identification tests are available, unlike other companies
- Medical analysis by Promethease is really outstanding and provides a great deal of information
- The test can, in fact, help you solve family mysteries
- Comfortable pricing at $99
- Very understandable and diverse results
- Provides useful and practical medical advice (preventive measures, mainly)
Clients who gave 23andMe a low rating discussed the following aspects of the business:
- Sometimes, the collection tube doesn’t yield any DNA results and you have to repeat the test. If you failed twice, you cannot use the service anymore.
- Sometimes, there are long waiting times with little response on their behalf on the source of delay
- Sometimes, they request extra fees on top of what you paid (unclear in which scenario, not stated)
- Customer service can be slow and unhelpful
- Genetic mutation indications are not accurate 100% of the time
- Some packages/kits aren’t clear in terms of what they contain
There are also some 23andMe reviews on TrustPilot and Yelp, but they are not worth delving into because it’s only several dozen reviews in comparison to the 1,000 on Amazon.
Bottom line conclusions for this 23andMe review
23andMe is a very diverse company that excels on both health and genealogy tests. The tests are easy to conduct, relatively cheap, and yield a full set of results that other companies aren’t able to produce. 23andMe is a combination of fun facts about your genetic heritage and body, combined with very important data that could be used for more serious purposes such as identifying genetic risks to certain diseases. In other words, this 23andMe review concludes that 23andMe is the “real deal” when it comes to at home DNA tests.