23 and Me review – Can your DNA help discover new drugs?

Rating based on our 23 and Me review

7 Facts from our 23 and Me review

  1. 23 and Me location: California, USA
  2. Products: DNA tests for ancestry and health
  3. Reports: detailed ancestry composition, ability to find relatives, various traits, carrier status, and genetic health risks
  4. Result delivery: 23 and Me web portal and mobile app (iOS and Android)
  5. Privacy: active sharing of aggregate customer data with researchers
  6. Cost: $99-$499; no free analysis options
  7. Alternatives: Nebula Genomics (free DNA data upload; whole genome sequencing for $299), AncestryDNA ($99 for ancestry test, $149 for ancestry + health test), MyHeritage ($79 for ancestry test, $199 for ancestry + health test)

Introduction

The genetic testing company 23 and Me (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, the company has aggregated a lot of genetic data. To date, there are over 10 million individuals in its database. Read more in our 23 and Me review!

Review of 23 and Me Products 

Customers can choose to order one of three DNA testing kits from 23 and Me, 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 23 and Me.

Review of 23 and Me Ancestry + Traits ($99)

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

Ancestry Reports. 23 and Me 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.

Review of 23 and Me Health + Ancestry ($199)

The 23 and Me 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, 23 and Me 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, 23 and Me 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.

Review of 23 and Me VIP Health + Ancestry ($499)

The 23 and Me 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 23 and Me’s website:

Sample 23andMe Health Predisposition Report.
Sample 23 and Me Health Predisposition Report.

Review of 23 and Me Privacy Policy

23 and Me 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 23 and Me to store their saliva sample​ after it has been analyzed.

23 and Me 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.

23 and Me in the News

23 and Me is focused on using genetic information for medical research and drug discovery. With the large genomic database that the company 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 23 and Me’s partnership with pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline. Moreover, 23 and Me 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: 23 and Me is Terrifying, but Not for the Reasons the FDA Thinks

23 and Me Reviews

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

Nebula Genomics

Nebula Genomics distinguishes itself from 23 and Me and other genetic testing companies through its focus on privacy, the use of most advanced testing technology, and the most comprehensive reporting. We finish our 23 and Me review by comparing it to Nebula Genomics and other DNA testing companies.

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 23 and Me 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 23 and Me 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 23 and Me, which only reads out 0.1% of your genome! Here is how it compares with the 23 and Me genetic test.


23 and MeAncestryDNANebula 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 (23 and Me and Ancestry)
Tools to explore dataLimitedLimited Yes (learn more)
Data accessYes (23 and Me format file)Yes (Ancestry format file)Yes (FASTQ, BAM, and VCF files)
Cost$99, $199, or $499$99 or $149$0 – $299

Geneology enthusiasts should also take a look at MyHeritage! Did you like our 23 and Me review? Explore all our reviews here.

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