At-home DNA testing kits offer an exciting glimpse into your family’s history and biomedical health. But it isn’t always obvious which kit you should buy, especially if you’re shopping for a gift. So, here are the best DNA kits on the market, along with some details to help you decide what’s right for you.
Before Buying a DNA Testing Kit
Before we start digging through DNA kits, we need to be clear about how they work. Despite what you might hear in the advertisements, you don’t just spit into a cup and end up with a 100% accurate representation of your lineage.
See, these companies only look at a small percentage of your entire genome. They then interpret that information by comparing it to an extensive genetic database. These interpretations can never be 100% accurate (which is why there are like 20 different DNA companies), and they often change over time.
We’re not saying that these interpretations of DNA are bad. In fact, they’re accurate enough to bring families together, raise questions about the past, and encourage a healthy lifestyle. But if you’re laser-focused on learning about your health or lineage, just know that you’re never going to get a full picture.
Oh, and there’s also the issue of privacy. Under our current genetic privacy law (which is only about 1,500 words long), DNA companies can do just about anything with your genetic data. They can sell it to small business, give it to law enforcement without your permission, or even pass it on to insurance providers (who can legally use genetic data while assessing a disability or life insurance application). And of course, there’s a chance that hackers might collect your personal data from these websites. Not necessarily your DNA (although that may be an issue), but your birthday, your address, your family members’ names, and information about your health.
Will everyone who takes a DNA test have their privacy violated? Of course not, but it’s worth thinking about. If you’re trying to retain as much privacy as possible while taking one of these tests, we suggest that you read the DNA privacy guide that our friend Eric Ravenscraft put together for the New York Times. It’s a good read, and it spells out the world of genetic privacy in a way that anyone can understand.
Now that we all understand what we’re looking at let’s get into it. Here are the best at-home DNA kits on the market, along with some info on how they might suit your interests.
Best Overall: 23andMe Health + Ancestry Kit
If you’re just looking to get a broad picture of your lineage and genetic health indicators, then 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry Kit is your best bet. The service uses its humongous 5-million person database to reveal information about your lineage, your ancestor’s migration patterns, and a swath of potential genetic health indicators. Plus, the 23andMe website is incredibly easy to use, and it’s continuously updated with new information about your genes.
Just keep in mind that 23andMe offers a very broad picture of your DNA. You know, it’s a jack of all trades kind of deal. You’ll get an impressive view of your ancestral migration patterns, potential family members, and genetic health indicators, but not with the depth of other, more specific services.
23andMe Health + Ancestry Service: Personal Genetic DNA Test Including Health Predispositions, Carrier Status, Wellness, and Trait Reports
For most people, the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Kit offers all you could ever need. It's a broad test that explains your roots and your potential biomedical future.
Best for Finding Relatives: AncestryDNA Kit
Ancestry has been in the family-tree business for over three decades and has amassed a database of over 10 million people. And as you might expect, the AncestryDNA kit is the best at-home genetics kit for finding lost relatives.
The Ancestry website’s built around the idea of bringing families together. It’s full of detailed family trees (with photos of people and documents), and an integrated messaging feature that allows you to get in contact with potential relatives. (Of course, you can hide from your relatives by adjusting your privacy options.) Ancestry also gives you a snapshot of your ancestors’ migration patterns and some vague biomedical information, but these features aren’t as robust as what other services have to offer.
Most of the Ancestry features associated with your DNA are included with the AncestryDNA kit. Still, the service’s extensive family tree features (which can tie into your DNA results) require a premium Ancestry membership. These memberships ain’t cheap ($200 to access US documents, $300 to access world documents), but they’re worth the ability to look at historical records. And hey, a $200 gift that lasts a whole year isn’t a bad deal.
AncestryDNA: Genetic Ethnicity Test
Ancestry's DNA kit offers a glimpse at your ethnic roots, but it's best used as a tool for finding family members and building a family tree. After all, Ancestry's been building family trees for three decades.
Best for Tracking Your Roots: Living DNA
Ancestry may be the best service for tracking down family members, but it doesn’t go nearly as deep into your genetic roots as Living DNA. The service links your ethnicity to 80 different regions, draws out detailed migration patterns, and provides info on your autosomal DNA, mtDNA, and YDNA (if you’re a male). For reference, Ancestry only tests your autosomal DNA.
If you’re stuck between the Living DNA kit and the AncestryDNA kit, just know that you can import your Living DNA data to a premium Ancestry account. This will allow you to find potential family members and build a family tree on Ancestry without buying another DNA kit.
Living DNA - Starter Kit, DNA Testing, Global ancestry, DNA Matching, Nutrition Report, Fitness Insight
Living DNA goes further into your roots than other services. It offers a deep-dive into your ethnic origins, and even gives you a glimpse of how your ancestors' DNA changed over time.
Best for Diet and Fitness: ORIG3N DNA Kits
If you’re looking to tailor your lifestyle toward your genetic makeup, then consider taking an ORIG3N DNA test kit. While ORIG3N isn’t nearly as popular as its competitors, it stands out as a company that’s focused on a practical interpretation of DNA. Its tests can estimate what foods and exercises might be best for your body, along with information on how your genes might inform your favorite junk food or behaviors.
Just keep in mind that ORIG3N’s goal is to support a healthy lifestyle. The service doesn’t try to predict what diseases you’ll experience later in life, and it doesn’t try to connect you with lost family members or trace your lineage.
ORIG3N Genetic Home DNA Test Kit, Nutrition
While ORIG3N isn't nearly as popular as its DNA-testing competitors, the service is great for people who are trying to maximize their lifestyle choices.
Best for Dogs: Embark Breed + Health Kit
Have you ever wanted to know exactly what breed your dog is? The Embark Breed + Health Kit offers you a glimpse into the exact breed of your dog, along with information on any health problems that your dog might experience in the future.
Like the DNA kits for humans, this kit is mostly for fun and entertainment. The 170+ health conditions that it tests for can help you prevent or minimize the damage of genetic illnesses, but they aren’t an alternative to routine checkups at the vet. (Embark also sells a cheaper version of this test that only checks for breed and ancestry information.)
Embark | Dog DNA Test | Breed & Health Kit | Breed Identification & Canine Genetic Health Screening
The Embark Breed + Health kit offers you a glimpse into your dog's exact breed, along with some key biomedical information that may be useful late in your dog's life.