23andMe Pros and Cons

What is 23andMe? It is a personal genetic services organization which offers two primary services. You can purchase an ancestry kit that looks at your familial history through the lens of genetics or you can add a health element to the test that will look for markers that could indicate your risk of disease.

You can receive access to over 125 personalized reports that give you information about your genetic traits, overall health, and much more.

Getting this information follows a simple process. Once you receive the kit from 23andMe, all you need to do is provide a sample of your saliva from home. Then you would mail the product back to the lab in the same kit thanks to the prepaid postage. In roughly 8 weeks or less, you will receive an email from the company that let you know that all of your reports are ready through your online account.

Then just login to discover what your DNA says about you.

If you’re thinking about using a service like this to discover more information on your ancestry or health, then these are the pros and cons of 23andMe to consider.

List of the Pros of 23andMe

1. It has the most accurate ethnicity estimates that are available today.
23andMe offers consumers an autosomal test which includes the basic mitochondrial and Y-chromosome haplogroup information without an additional charge. Out of the five companies which currently provide similar services for DNA testing, this provider offers the most accurate ethnicity estimates thanks to the structure of this kit. You can rely on the data provided more often than you can with the other options.

The current process used by 23andMe tests 570,000 genetic markers across 31 population groups from over 150 different regions in the world.

2. It is the only company providing trait and medical reports.
23andMe is the only organization of its size to offer access to both the trait and medical DNA reports. Although this information is not generally useful for genealogy research, it can be fun to know what your family history is for future planning needs. This information can make it possible for you to discover if you are a carrier for a serious disease so that you can minimize potential risks for your offspring. You could discover that you might have a chance to pass along something like cystic fibrosis.

3. It does not require a subscription or referral for the services.
If you want to take advantage of this DNA testing opportunity, then you don’t need to go to the doctor to receive a referral. There is no need for an additional subscription to access any ethnicity reports or matching tools either with this provider. They will leave an estimate how much Neanderthal DNA might be in your current genome. That means you can maximize the value of this investment without worrying about hidden costs like you sometimes do with the competition.

4. It allows you to find your potential genetic relatives.
One of the unique aspects of the 23andMe DNA database is that it allows you to compare the information you receive with the profiles of others who have already taken the test. That makes it possible to find unknown genetic relatives who used this kit as well. The company allows you to download your rod DNA information to look for potential matches in other companies as well.

5. It gives you access to more health information that is valuable.
23andMe became the first organization of its type to win approval from the FDA to market genetic tests for cancer directly to customers without the need for a doctor’s order. During the first quarter of 2018, the company spent nearly $30 million to promote this new product. As the medical uses of these tests are eased in the United States, more products may start being introduced thanks to the success of DNA testing.

This trend makes it easier for consumers to discover if they have an increased risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other health issues.

6. It offers a private messaging system to consumers.
When messages are sent within the 23andMe system, then they are automatically labeled as being private. No one on staff has access to the information you send or discuss unless your explicit consent is offered first. That means you can rest assured that all of your communications about the DNA results are kept in confidence if that’s what you want to have happen.

7. It could help with the future of medical research.
What does 23andMe expect to do with all of the data it collects from its testing kits? The company has never been shy about sharing its long-term vision for this technology. They want to use it for medical research, looking for possible genetic links to specific traits. They discovered the bright light and sneezing genetic tag as an example of this process. Through the use of brute-force matching with patterns, it becomes possible to find a genetic cause for a serious disease. That could lead the way to eventually combat you.

8. It can start the necessary discussions about early medical interventions.
Although there are not clinically actionable items that come from the 23andMe reports that you receive after sending in the testing kit, it does offer you a premise to begin a conversation with your doctor about some of its potential findings. When you discover that you come from a region where you might be a potential carrier for a disease, the you can seek out proactive treatment instead of waiting until something happens. This process could improve your quality of life, prolong it, or even save it in some instances.

List of the Cons of 23andMe

1. It puts your information into a database of other people.
23andMe currently maintains a DNA database of over 5 million people. That makes it the second-largest of its type in the world today. When you submit your saliva for analysis, then you are handing over information that can be stored indefinitely. You get information that is critical for your health or family background, but at the same time you are creating an additional identity risk for yourself. Information can always be hacked. The Experian data breach shows how devastating that could be for millions of people.

2. It takes time to generate the reports.
When you decide to use 23andMe for your DNA testing needs, then most reports are generated in 6 to 8 weeks. Some customers might receive their information sooner, while others might get the notifications later – it all depends on the speed of the delivery service and how fast the company can process the information. Although this time frame is standard for the industry right now, it is a significant disadvantage to wait for two months or more when using a product like this.

3. It doesn’t feature any family trees in the database.
When you use the DNA testing features from 23andMe, then you are able to research your genetic profile in comparison with others. All of this work must occur manually because there is no current method of genealogy involved with this service. You can still connect with relatives that have also used this kit, but it is often a hit-or-miss process. It would be much more advantageous if the organization provided some type of family tree information that you could use to join communities.

4. It doesn’t always provide accurate results.
A study published by Nature shows that up to 40% of DNA results coming from consumer genetic tests like those offered by 23andMe may provide inaccurate results that are reported to the consumer. Most of the tests use genotyping as a way to offer information about the ancestry of the individual. The variants that show up in the raw data can produce false positives, showing that something is there when it really is not. Most of these issues involve cancer-linked genes. Even third-party interpretation services can misunderstand the results when these errors occur.

5. It could create questions about data use in the future.
The reports which 23andMe generate can create helpful user profiles, but it can also develop the potential for harm. DNA information is considered to be infallible when presented in a court of law in the United States. Even though there is a 0.1% inaccuracy rating or higher promoted by testing providers, “matches” are treated as fact when developing a legal case against someone. If the information in this database were to become useful to someone else, then the potential of harm could become very great for someone. It might be possible to indicate legal responsibility through DNA transfer even though the individual did not give consent.

6. It does not provide a resource to counter human error.
DNA samples that go to a database like that of 23andMe can encounter multiple levels of human fallibility before the reports are created for the consumer. There is always the risk that the saliva is not deposited as instructed or gets contaminated during the shipping process. It is even possible for some groups to be over-represented compared to others. These issues can skew the results published on the final report, which can then cause the potential for harm to the individual because they believe something is true when it may not be at all.

7. It is a medical company first and a genetics company second.
When you send your DNA profile to 23andMe with your saliva test, then the results tend to emphasize the medical component of the data pull instead of the genealogy component. Most of the customers that use this resource are not interested in seeing what their family history happens to be. They often choose to opt out of relative matching when they fill out the paperwork with their kit. Even if they do want the information that is available, they are typically not prone to sharing it with others.

8. It comes at a higher price.
The MSRP for a single test is $99 when working with 23andMe for your genetic profiling. If you want to receive both sets of information from your saliva kit, then you must pay for both tests. That means you’re forced to fork out $200 + sales tax and platform fees to receive the reports about your health and genetic profile without a guarantee of their accuracy. You are literally paying a company to obtain and store data about your DNA because it may offer something of value to you as well.

9. It can include you in the disadvantages even if you don’t participate in the program.
You do not need to volunteer your DNA to 23andMe to experience some of the potential disadvantages which are associated with this service. Every time one of your relatives decides to send in their saliva for testing, there is a small part of your genetic makeup that gets stored in their database. If several close relatives were to send in samples, then the company would already have enough information to create a genetic profile about you as well. That information might violate your privacy, but there are no current legal standards that would stop it because everyone else provided consent.

10. It offers a cap on your relative matches.
23andMe caps the number of genetic matches that you can find in their database to 2,000. That rule applies regardless of whether your relatives opted into the program. Close matches who opt out of the DNA Relatives program can displace distance matches who do want to find more information about their genealogy. The average customers who uses the kits offered by the company typically see about 1,200 possible matches in total.

11. It does not allow you to provide raw data from another provider.
If you have already taken a DNA test with one of the other providers of this service other than 23andMe, then the raw data file you received cannot be uploaded to your profile with this company. The only way that you can get your information into their database to begin searching for answers is to purchase a test with them. Since there is the possibility of using that information for future marketing purposes, some people may find that using another service or ignoring this product altogether is a better option for their needs.

12. It does not provide results which are suitable for clinical use.
When the FDA announced that it would allow 23andMe to market and advertise directly to consumers about its genetic health risk tests for roughly 10 conditions, it was giving the company the ability to share data about the potential risks of testing and what the results may be. There is no known harm that comes from the collection and testing of saliva. The tests you receive are not validated for clinical use, which means there’s nothing you would learn about yourself from this investment that could create an actionable item for your health.

13. It can make a person’s family secrets become public.
Dani Shapiro discovered heartbreaking information when she submitted her kit for a home-based DNA kit. She discovered that her father, who died in a car accident when she was 23, was not actually her biological parent. She discovered that her parents had trouble conceiving, so a sperm donation was used.

Sisters have taken these tests together only to find out that they were only half-siblings because one of their parents had an affair. Some people have discovered they were adopted thanks to this information. There have been numerous other family secrets exposed. If you don’t want to be surprised by what could be found, then it is probably better not to take this test.

14. It may disrupt your self-identity.
Home DNA testing kits from 23andMe provide an ethnicity estimate based on your genetic profile. If you grew up thinking that you were Irish because that’s what your family said, you might be saddened to discover a report that says you are actually German. This result can create disillusionment which can be difficult to overcome for some people because it impacts their identity at a core level. Some people may find that the ethnicity portion of the test creates more questions than answers, like why there is a significant percentage of ancestry from a region in the world that no one discusses in your family.

The pros and cons of 23andMe are admittedly still in their earliest stages. We do not know enough about this technology as of yet to determine its accuracy or full potential. Continued use of the kits offered for DNA testing will help to refine the data, create a larger database, and make it possible to understand more about one’s current and future health. Can the information be liberating? Possibly. Only time will tell if the investments we are making now into this technology will create beneficial results in the future.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.