23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: A simple comparison for the DNA newbie
When it comes to DNA testing companies, 23andMe and AncestryDNA are two of the most well-known genetic testing companies. They have a combined user-base of over 28 million users that have given DNA samples! But with so much hype, advertising, and competition between the two companies, how are you supposed to know which test is right for you?
Well, the experts here at Genomelink think that everyone should find the best DNA test for their needs. While these two DNA testing services do have some overlap, they provide different features in both the ancestry and health sections that help users accomplish different tasks. Read our short comparison below to learn how 23andMe and Ancestry are different!
23andMe was the first company to offer direct-to-consumer DNA tests. Because of its early entry to the industry and the hype it built around the promise of genetic testing, the company has been able to amass a user database of over 10 million users. Backed by Google Ventures, the company offers a platform that is easy to use and has some of the best health tests on the market. The company also offers ancestry testing that is comprehensive and very accurate, with over 2,000 global ethnic regions it can connect your DNA to and many other ancestry tools.
By contrast, Ancestry had been around for decades before genetic testing was even possible. Specializing in genealogy, the company builds databases of historical records and allows users to build comprehensive family trees that utilize information found in historical records and personal documentation. Though they entered the game later than 23andMe, Ancestry was able to leverage their pre-existing users into a DNA database that now far surpasses 23andMe - with 18+ million users!
While both companies now offer both health and ancestry DNA tests, there are a few important differences between their products.
23andMe’s Ancestry + Traits Kit ($99)
23andMe has one of the largest reference populations of any DNA testing company, due to their 10+ million user database. These reference populations allow the company to narrow down your ancestry composition to any one of over 2,000 ethnic regions around the globe. Besides Ancestry, this is much more specificity than any of the smaller DNA testing companies can offer.
This DNA testing service will give you a brief look at your family history and will show you ethnicity estimates based on which reference populations you match. The platform also allows the ability to find DNA relatives, as long as those living relatives also use 23andMe and have also opted-in to the DNA matching service. 23andMe also automatically builds your family tree from these matches, allowing you to easily see your family connections visually. With the Chromosome Browser, you can see exactly which ethnic regions each portion of your DNA came from - a cool feature for figuring out which prominent features you have come from which populations. You can also view an Ancestry Timeline, which can help pinpoint exactly when your family lived in certain regions around the world.
In addition to these great ancestry functions, 23andMe also tests mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA), which can help you track your maternal and paternal lines back hundreds of thousands of years. These “haplogroups” - as they are known - can not only show how your family tree migrated out of Africa, but they can also tell you if you have Neanderthal DNA or if you are related to any famous people from throughout history.
On top of all of this, 23andMe’s ancestry test gives you reports on a number of non-health traits that can help you understand how your DNA affects who you are. These reports include a number of seemingly random traits that have been researched - including your ability to match musical pitches and if you have any funny taste preferences that are produced by your genetic variants.
Ancestry’s AncestryDNA Kit ($99)
Ancestry.com has been in the genealogy game much longer than 23andMe. Their DNA test results should be similar because both companies have well-researched reference populations. Like 23andMe, Ancestry can connect you to thousands of very specific regions around the globe. The basic ethnicity estimates allow you to see if you are Scandinavian, British, Irish, African, Native American, or a mixture of everything. Plus, AncestryDNA offers comparable historical reports of your distant relatives written by actual historians. However, if you are looking to build a family tree and back it up with historical documents, AncestryDNA is a better option.
For decades, Ancestry has been compiling the world’s largest online repository for historical documents. Combining your ancestry reports with their research library allows you to build a well-supported family tree that can include thousands of your closest relatives. To access these features, you will have to pay a yearly subscription fee that can cost several hundred dollars. However, there is no better way to get recorded facts about your family tree that are very hard to track down.
Using their autosomal DNA test, you can also find information on your possible Neanderthal Ancestry, and possible migration routes taken by your family. In fact, by combining their historical knowledge with their enormous DNA database, the company has built an algorithm that not only tells you which human mass migrations your family has been a part of but also gives you contextual historical information to help you better understand these migrations.
Like 23andMe, Ancestry also tags on a bunch of reports related to non-health traits including cilantro aversion, finger length, and several other random traits.
Best DNA Testing Kit for Ancestry
When it comes to DNA ancestry testing, people typically fall into one of two groups. Those who want quick results, an easy-to-navigate platform, and have little interest in building out a detailed family tree should pick 23andMe. They offer just as many ethnic regions, DNA matches, and migration patterns as Ancestry, and the platform is much easier to use.
By contrast, Ancestry is the place to go for people that really want to fully understand their family history. While the subscription fee to the historical records database is pricey, there is almost nowhere else you can access such detailed historical records so easily. However, if we are considering only the $99 price tag of both tests, 23andMe gives you a slightly better value overall and Ancestry results alone aren’t anything special.
23andMe’s Health + Ancestry Kit ($199)
23andMe offers a Health + Ancestry package that includes both an ethnicity estimate as well as information on your genetic health risks, wellness traits, and reports detailing your carrier status for a large number of genetic diseases. With a mission of providing more personalized health results through the power of DNA, 23andMe definitely delivers with the most comprehensive generalized DNA health tests on the market.
The health risk reports include information on how your genetic markers may be increasing your risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, various cancers, and 10+ other conditions. They are also the only company currently approved by the FDA to offer health screenings for certain conditions. While this is technically true, it does come with some stipulations. For instance, while 23andMe proudly props up their genetic tests for breast cancer in the BRCA gene, they fail to highlight the fact that they only test 3 variants within the gene. While these variants can introduce a significant risk of breast cancer, these specific variants are only found in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, it’s a bit misleading to even sell these tests to the public - FDA approved or not.
The wellness reports provided by the company analyze your genetic data and give you ideas for how to live a healthier lifestyle. They report on things like muscle composition, diet, and other traits that are available on many third-party DNA testing sites (like Genomelink).
The one reason that 23andMe’s health kit may actually be worth the price is the Carrier Status reports. The company offers 40+ reports on different genetic diseases, telling you if you carry a variant that you may pass on to your children. Since most of these conditions are recessive, both you and your partner must carry the variant in order to have a child with the condition, which makes these Carrier Status reports a powerful tool for family planning! Considering that this kit also gives you all the ancestry reports and non-health reports contained in the cheaper package, this kit has a pretty good value.
Ancestry’s AncestryHealth Kit ($199)
Updated on Jan 2021: Ancestry decided to discontinue the Ancestry Health report in Jan 2021. You can find more about the decision here.
Best DNA Testing Kit for Health
As Ancestry discontinued the health report, it is clear at this point that 23andMe is the only option for the health test between the two. Though FDA approval does not matter that much, users do value a clear and effective interface and carrier status reports are the most useful piece of information you can receive from a generalized DNA health panel. 23andMe provides the best of all three of these categories.
That being said, the editors at Genomelink do not suggest that anyone with serious health conditions should use a direct-to-consumer DNA test kit (at this stage) to try to understand their medical conditions. There are much better DNA health tests that require a doctor’s order and are specific to diseases you are at a higher risk of having. You can find the companies that provide these health tests in our “Best DNA Kits” post.
TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)
Both Ancestry and 23andMe provide industry-leading ancestry tests. AncestryDNA is better if you want to build a family tree, whereas 23andMe’s Ancestry + Traits Kit is better if you want a great user interface and easy-to-understand results.
23andMe is currently beating Ancestry in the health-testing game, though users with serious genetic health concerns should still consider talking to their doctor and having a more comprehensive DNA panel ordered that will look at all the variants related to a specific disease or disorder.
Raw DNA Data
Fortunately, both of these companies allow you to download your raw DNA data! That means that regardless of which company you select, you will still have options. If you don’t care much about health testing, you can get the most value out of your DNA test by ordering an ancestry DNA test kit and uploading the raw data to companies that can provide information on many traits that the big companies do not report on.
Below are several DNA testing companies that allow you to upload your raw data. These companies offer a variety of reports not available from 23andMe or AncestryDNA. Plus, many of these companies offer their services for free! Check it out!
Know "More" About Your DNA Data
1. Genomelink — 25 FREE Traits: Covers Nutrition, Personality, Physical Traits, and Sports
2. Promethease — Genetic Literature Retrieval Service: connects you straight to scientific reports
Find Family Members in these Databases for Free
3. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) — FREE
4. MyHeritage DNA — FREE
5. LivingDNA — FREE
6. GEDmatch — FREE
Nutrition and Fitness
To find out more DNA upload sites, check out our article "The Best DNA Upload Sites"