With various home DNA testing kits now readily available to the general public, self DNA testing is simpler than it has ever been. DNA testing kits like the ones offered by AncestryDNA and 23andMe allow you to unearth a treasure trove of information about your ethnic roots, ancestry, family lineage, and much more. It’s understandable, therefore, to wonder which DNA testing service will best fit your specific needs.
Below is an extensive comparison of the 23andMe DNA testing service versus one of its top competitors, AncestryDNA. Both testing services have many advantages and could be a good match for individuals looking to learn more about their genetic profile and family history. Let’s compare them side by side so you can more easily decide which option is best for you.
The Roots of Each DNA Company: 23andMe vs AncestryDNA
Just like with your ancestry, the beginnings of a company can speak volumes about its current status and founding principles. While both 23andMe and AncestryDNA offer similar DNA testing services, their roots are very different and their services have been tailored accordingly.
History of The 23andMe Company
A privately held genomics and biotechnology company, 23andMe is based out of Sunnyvale, California. It was founded originally as a genetic testing company in 2006 by Linda Avey, Anne Wojcicki, and Paul Cusenza.
The company has always prioritized genetic health testing and was founded with personal DNA testing services as a primary objective. Because of this, 23andMe now offers customers both ancestry-related DNA services as well as family tree and ethnicity services. This was the first mainstream DNA testing company to offer autosomal DNA testing services for ancestry and lineage tracing. In 2008, their direct-to-consumer (DTC) saliva testing business was named “Best Invention of the Year” by Time magazine.
Today, 23andMe is objectively the best DNA testing service available for predicting genetic health risks and has also been cited as one of the most accurate DNA testing services available to the general public. They offer autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA testing services, and have a database of around 10 million samples.
History of AncestryDNA
Ancestry.com was founded by Brigham Young University graduates, Paul Brent Allen and Dan Taggart, in the early 1990s. A privately held company based out of Lehi, Utah. Ancestry.com began an information-sharing company called Infobase. This company grew to become Ancestry.com and later launched AncestryDNA, a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, offering a direct-to-consumer genealogical DNA testing service to the public.
AncestryDNA provides DNA analysis through saliva samples. They utilize a sequence of algorithms to infer family relationships with other AncestryDNA users called “ethnicity estimation.” While the company once offered mitochondrial and Y-DNA testing, those tests were discontinued in 2014. Today, AncestryDNA uses autosomal DNA testing and has a database of around 16 million completed DNA test samples.
Overview of DNA Testing
DNA testing involves a process of collecting a genetic material sample, processing that sample, and comparing it to other samples based on the information gathered. There are three main kinds of DNA tests on the market today: autosomal, y-chromosome (Y-DNA), mitochondrial (mtDNA).
Autosomal DNA tests are used to trace ancestry through autosomal chromosome similarities. These tests are not gender-specific and so they can be used by either male or female participants; since everyone has autosomal chromosomes, these tests are equally effective for both genders. Everyone has autosomal chromosomes in their genetic makeup. Your autosomal chromosomes contain segments of DNA that are shared by every relative you have. Thus, autosomal testing is an effective way to find any unknown biological family matches, trace your ancestry, outline your family tree, and more. Autosomal DNA tests can not give you information about your haplogroup, (a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor) but they can give you information about many other genetic traits. Large autosomal comparison databases exist, making autosomal testing more accurate than ever before.
Mitochondrial DNA tests (mtDNA) are used to trace your maternal line. This is the ancestral line of a mother. Mitochondria are passed from mothers to their children. Everyone has mitochondria, and so mtDNA tests can be used by both men and women. Mitochondrial testing helps you discover your mtDNA haplogroup. The mtDNA haplogroup is the group of people that makes up your matrilineage (lineage on your mother’s side).
Y-DNA tests identify the Y-chromosomes that are passed from father to son. As such, they can only be taken by male individuals. That being said, if a female wishes to learn about her patriarchal lineage, she could potentially have a male relative take a Y-DNA test on her behalf. These tests identify the male Y-chromosome haplogroup. This is the ancient group of individuals who make up a person’s patrilineage ancestors. Y-DNA tests can not trace females (nor their male ancestors) from whom a male descends.
How the DNA Testing Process Works
Direct to home DNA tests are very simple to take. You will receive a testing kit with instructions that will guide you in taking a DNA sample, usually a spit sample. You will then send back your saliva sample and have it tested by the company that you’ve ordered your test kit from. This sample will be broken down through mtDNA, Y-DNA, or autosomal DNA testing.
The DNA data gathered from your sample will then be run through a large DNA database (DNA reference populations). These reference panels usually contain ten thousands of other DNA samples. Using algorithms, the DNA testing center will be able to identify patterns and similarities between your DNA sample and other DNA samples. The results from this testing process will then be made available to you, usually through an online platform.
By using the online platforms and search engines available through the company of your choice, you’ll be able to discover information about your health traits, family tree, biological living relatives, and more.
Some companies allow you to upload raw data for an even more exhaustive research experience. Other companies (like 23andMe) offer chromosome browsers or close biological relative matching services. You may also have access to geological ancestry maps that can show you where your ancestors have migrated from over the centuries (migration patterns).
Keep in mind that different DNA testing companies offer users an array of platforms and breakdown genealogical and genetic health information in various ways. This is one reason that it’s important to use a DNA testing service that will correspond well with the information you’re looking to discern.
23andMe vs AncestryDNA
Now that we’ve gone over some of the finer points of DNA testing, let’s take a look at how 23andMe and AncestryDNA compare side-by-side.
• DNA Testing and Sample Process
Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA use saliva samples to gather genetic information. Both companies also offer a direct to home DNA testing kit. You simply gather your sample and mail it back to the company for analysis.
AncestryDNA offers a saliva test that can be done from home as well. The test kit comes in the mail after you order it online. You will receive a kit, saliva collection tube, and prepaid return packaging. This kit requires more saliva than some other kits. Your sample is then processed by AncestryDNA at a lab and your test results will be viewable on the AncestryDNA website.
The 23andMe test kit process is pretty simple and the test kits are comparatively easy to use. You’ll order the DNA test kit of your choice online, and it will usually arrive within 3-5 business days. Express shipping is also available. You’ll then follow the instructions in your test kit. This sample process involves spitting into a test tube and labeling it. You’ll then mail your test kit back to the 23andMe lab using an included prepaid package. In 5-6 weeks, you will receive an email letting you know that your test results are available online in your account.
• Ethnicity Estimation and Ancestry Test
Many DNA companies offer a percentage breakdown of genetics by ethnic regions. The world is split into regions and a DNA test can tell you the percentage of DNA inherited from each area. 23andMe offers this in the form of a Geographic Ancestry Analysis while AncestryDNA gives you an Ethnicity Estimate. Both companies offer easy-to-read DNA results with visual aids and resources for further ethnic discovery.
The Ancestry Composition report from 23andMe shows your DNA percentage from 45 populations spread across 1500 ethnic regions. They compare your genome to those of over 14,000 people with documented ancestry. Then, you’ll get what’s called a Chromosome Painting which easily displays which regions your ancestors have originated from. Since 23andMe also offers haplogroup which shows your ancestors back 1,000 years or more. Also, you have access to your Neanderthal Ancestry which shows your Neanderthal genetic percentage. To get accurate DNA results, they use an Ancestry Composition algorithm which comprises five distinct steps:
1. Phasing – measures a set of genotypes
2. Window Classification – segmenting them into consecutive windows
3. Smoothing – classifies each window of your genome independently
4. Re-calibration – corrects for systematic bias
5. Aggregation & Reporting – summarizes the DNA results and display them in a Chromosome Painting
This process gives you an extremely accurate ethnic picture. 23andMe has one of the most accurate ethnicity estimation systems due to its extensive database and ability to conduct mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal DNA testing. To learn more about their testing and validation process, you can visit their online user guide. You can also learn more about the populations and regions used by 23andMe for reference by visiting this page. Also, check my 23andMe review for more information.
AncestryDNA offers DNA ethnicity estimation from 1000+ ethnic regions for an accurate ethnicity estimate they can provide information on ethnicity estimation from centuries back. They divide ethnic regions by identifying hundreds of thousands of positions, or markers, in your DNA to build a panel of reference. These identifiers can help you determine your ethnicity and also possibly allow you to map historical migratory patterns.
AncestryDNA has a library of deep historical knowledge that can give you a comprehensive picture of what your ancestors may have been doing over the centuries. They present DNA data through a visual ethnicity chart. If your ethnic data is comprehensive, they will also create an interactive map with historical context so you can view migratory patterns in-depth. To learn more about the List of AncestryDNA Regions, you can read more here and here is my own in-depth review.
• DNA Relatives
Both companies also offer DNA relative matches. However, their close relative criteria for identifying matches are not the same. The DNA matches you’ll get from AncestryDNA are generally more accurate than the ones you may receive from 23andMe.
AncestryDNA tends to yield more DNA matches for its users, but this is because their criteria are 6cMs per segment and also their database is bigger.
They offer better criteria for matching segments of DNA, at 9 cMs and at least 700 SNPs.
• Health DNA Testing
A DNA health test can help you determine a wealth of information about genetic traits and potential hereditary health issues. With these tests, you can identify carrier status (how likely you are to pass on certain genes to your children), receive wellness reports (find out which genetic markers may cause you issues), access a health predisposition report (find out which diseases you are genetically predisposed to getting), a genetic traits report (learn about your unique genetic traits), and more. Both companies offer health testing, though 23andMe has a better overall test with more reports and that tends to yield more information.
23andMe Health Testing
The Health test offered by 23andMe is one of the most accurate and comprehensive health test options available through home DNA testing. 23andMe health tests offer users access to more health and disease information than almost any other DNA testing company. They have even been cleared by the FDA to offer 10 in-depth health screening test types plus a new form of cancer testing. Their health reports include information like:
Traits Reports (30+)
• Fear of Heights
• Fear of Public Speaking
• Finger Length Ratio
• Flat Feet
• Ice Cream Flavor Preference
• Light or Dark Hair
• Misophonia (hatred of the sound of chewing)
• Mosquito Bite Frequency
• Motion Sickness
• Hair Photobleaching (hair lightening from the sun)
• Hair Texture
• Hair Thickness
• Wake-Up Time
Health Predisposition Reports (10+)
• Genetic likelihood for a disorder of blood sugar regulation
• Genetic health risk for a form of adult-onset vision loss
• Genetic risk for gluten-related autoimmune disorder
• Familial Hypercholesterolemia & more
Wellness Reports (5+)
• Alcohol Flush Reaction
• Caffeine Consumption
• Deep Sleep
• Genetic Weight
• Saturated Fat and Weight
• Sleep Movement & more
Primarily, users of AncestryDNA are seeking biological relatives and information on their family history. However, AncestryDNA does offer a health test.
- Personalized health reports with actionable insights
- Access to genetic counseling resources
- A family members health history tool
Other Comparative Factors
- Raw data upload from another company isn’t possible for either company, though they both do offer raw DNA data downloading.
- AncestryDNA offers historical information and focuses on ancestry.
- Maternal and Paternal Haplogroup testing is only available with 23andMe.
Conclusion: 23andMe vs AncestryDNA – Compared Side by Side
The right DNA test can help you uncover numerous details about your past and present. Not every DNA test will suit each individual equivalently. While both 23andMe and AncestryDNA are top competitors in the direct to home DNA testing industry, they do have their differences. It will be up to you to choose which company best suits your unique specifications.
- Highest accuracy in Ethnicity Estimation
- Private genealogical research company
- Most accurate mainstream DNA testing comparatively
- More overall relative matches
- Historical records available
- Impressive family tree mapping
- Great for recent genealogical research/family trees
- Operates through Ancestry.com
- Large online community
- Interactive visual aids
- Simple and easy to use saliva testing kit
- Impressive customer support
- Easy to understand visual charts and aids
- Best health testing option
- Large genetic database for DNA matching
- Offers both mtDNA and Y-DNA tests
- Designed for health and biological information