23andMe review – Can your DNA help discover new drugs?

The genetic testing company 23andMe is based out of Sunnyvale, California, and was founded by Anne Wojcicki in 2006. The company was one of the first direct-to-consumer genetic testing services that emerged in the early 2000s, allowing individuals to access information about their genetics without the involvement of medical professionals. Individuals provide saliva samples, and they receive reports about their ancestry and genetic predispositions to specific traits and diseases. Over the years 23andMe has aggregated a lot of genetic data. To date, there are over 10 million individuals in its database.

23andMe Products 

Customers can choose to order one of three DNA testing kits from 23andMe, ranging from $99 to $499. The kit includes instructions for how to provide a saliva sample to mail back to the company. Sample processing takes 2-3 weeks. Depending on which testing kit customers purchase, different reports are included. 

Testing kits offered by 23andMe.
Testing kits offered by 23andMe.

23andMe Ancestry + Traits ($99)

The 23andMe Ancestry + Traits Service includes 80+ personalized reports for customers, including:

Ancestry Reports. 23andMe is probably best known for its ancestry testing. From their Ancestry Composition Report, customers can assess what proportion of their DNA comes from each of the 45 worldwide genetic populations. Customers can also learn about the ancient origin of their ancestors via Haplogroup Reports based on their mitochondrial DNA (for males and females) and Y chromosomes (just males). Moreover, the Neanderthal Ancestry Report allows customers to understand how much of their ancestry can be traced back to Neanderthals, an extinct species of hominids.

DNA Relatives Feature. This is an optional feature, which allows customers to connect with genetic relatives by identifying shared DNA segments. This enables the reconstruction of family history.

Traits Reports. Customers are able to explore how their genetics contributes to various traits they have, including physical features and food preferences.

Health + Ancestry ($199)

The 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service includes all features of the Ancestry + Traits, reporting plus additional health reports:

Health Predispositions Reports. These are reports approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)* that help customers understand how genetics and influence health outcomes. Reports include information about risk for developing diseases, including but not limited to, Breast Cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and Celiac Disease.

Wellness Reports. This feature allows customers to understand how their genetics can influence lifestyle.

Carrier Status Reports. These reports allow customers — that typically do not have a genetic condition — understand what variants they may pass down to their children that could affect their health.

*In 2013, 23andMe received a warning letter from the FDA to stop marketing its testing kit, which provided health risk information without FDA approval. With this in mind, the FDA issued guidance for companies producing direct-to-consumer tests. In 2015, 23andMe launched a new service that met FDA requirements for being scientifically and clinically valid, and in 2017, the company was authorized to tell customers their risk of developing certain medical conditions like Parkinson’s’ disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

23andMe VIP Health + Ancestry ($499)

The 23andMe VIP Health + Ancestry Service launched in October 2019, and it is the company’s concierge-like service. This product includes 2 Health + Ancestry kits with additional services such as overnight shipping, priority lab processing, premium customer support, and a 1-on-1 Ancestry results walkthrough for 30-minutes with a trained expert.

Sample Reports are available on 23andMe’s website:

Sample 23andMe Health Predisposition Report.
Sample 23andMe Health Predisposition Report.

Privacy Policy

23andMe secures customer data by stripping personal information, such as the customers’ names and contact information, in the hope that “[the customer] cannot reasonably be identified as an individual.” They also give the customer the option of allowing 23andMe to store their saliva sample​ after it has been analyzed.

23andMe states that it will not “sell, lease or rent [customer] individual-level information to any third party or to a third party for research purposes without [the customer’s] explicit consent.” However, the company does share aggregate information with third parties for other purposes, including research, business development, and sending marketing emails.

23andMe in the News

23andMe is focused on using genetic information for medical research and drug discovery. With the large genomic database that 23andMe has built, the company established its own therapeutics group in 2015 and built strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. However, there have been some concerns about the privacy issues associated with 23andMe’s partnership with pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline. Moreover, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug for inflammatory diseases it developed using aggregate customer data to the Spanish pharmaceutical company Almirall.

You can read more about concerns surrounding data sharing and privacy here: 23andMe is Terrifying, but Not for the Reasons the FDA Thinks

23andMe Reviews

23andMe reviews on its website (4/5)
23andMe reviews on Amazon (4.5/5)
23andMe reviews on Trustpilot (3.5/5)
A journalist learns devastating health news from her 23andMe test results

Nebula Genomics

Nebula Genomics distinguishes itself from 23andMe and other genetic testing companies through its focus on privacy, the use of most advanced testing technology, and the most comprehensive reporting. 

Your privacy is central

At Nebula Genomics, we believe that learning about how your genome encodes information about your health, personality, and ancestry can be invaluable, but we are also aware of the privacy risks. Therefore, at Nebula Genomics, we are building the first privacy-focused personal genomics service. We eliminate personal genomics companies as middlemen between data owners (i.e. customers) and data buyers (i.e. third parties), such that you can be compensated if you choose to share your data. You can read more about the importance of DNA privacy here.

Nebula Expand

You can upload your DNA data from 23andMe to discover more about your genome with the Nebula Genomics expanded report. We create an expanded report by filling in the blanks of typical microarray-based DNA genotyping tests using statistical models, otherwise known as imputation. This expanded report gives you access to hundreds of traits and curated research studies through the Nebula Research Library, allowing you to stay up-to-date with the most cutting-edge research and what it means to you and your DNA.

Nebula Genomics 30x Whole-Genome Sequencing (NEW!)

Our goal is to empower our customers to have the option to go beyond genetics tests that are offered by companies like 23andMe and to unlock more information about themselves. With our new 30x Whole-Genome Sequencing service, we determine 100% of your DNA. In other words, you will get 10,000 times more data than with 23andMe, which only reads out 0.1% of your genome! Here is how it compares with the 23andMe genetic test.

23andMeAncestryDNANebula Genomics
DNA Testing MethodMicroarray-based genotypingMicroarray-based genotypingWhole Genome Sequencing (30x coverage)
Information availableAncestry, traits, health 

Ancestry, health Weekly reports based on the latest research, data exploration tools, deep ancestry
Able to upload raw DNA dataNoNoYes (23andMe and Ancestry)
Tools to explore dataLimitedLimited Yes (learn more)
Data accessYes (23andMe format file)Yes (Ancestry format file)Yes (FASTQ, BAM, and VCF files)
Cost$99, $199, or $499$99 or $149$0 – $299
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