DNA testing is the new scientific trend taking over the world. It’s no longer used solely to prove or disprove paternity, and is now more of a quirky gift for a family member, or a personal purchase for someone curious about their heritage. At-home genetic tests are more accessible than ever before, with more people using the kits to discover their ancestry, and even find out if they are genetically predisposed to certain illnesses.
But while these tests are becoming increasingly affordable, some genetic experts suggest that not every DNA test is completely accurate. Certified genetic counsellor Marissa Coleridge, for example, advises researching thoroughly beforehand, then working with a doctor or genetic counsellor in order to understand the results completely. Here we’ll go through what results you can expect to find, and which DNA tests give the best value for money.
How much do DNA tests cost?
The cost of a DNA test completely depends on the data you’re after. A basic paternity test can set you back around $70, while more complex results, like disease markers, will cost more. The cost also depends on how in-depth you want the results to be, and can easily reach over $1,000. As comparison site DNA Testing Choice explains, a basic ancestry testing kit—which will simply explain where you come from—will cost around $69. However, if you want to find out how your genes will impact your health, or discover your genetic disease markers, you could end up paying up to $1,399.
How do DNA tests work?
As previously mentioned, DNA tests can tell you more about where your ancestors were from, or whether you’re genetically at risk of any diseases, which can influence your life and the way you live. You only need to provide some of your DNA—most commonly via a spit sample—in a vial and send it off to be examined. Results are then published online after a set number of weeks.
Perhaps the most common form of genetic testing, autosomal DNA testing looks at finding cousins and distant relatives. These tests also highlight your ethnic mix, showing the various countries you’re from, and works by describing inherited autosomal chromosomes. Most DNA testing providers will offer autosomal testing, and some can even connect you with other users within the database who you may be related to. However, it should be noted that these tests can only be traced back by about 5-8 generations, after which the data becomes too weak to compare to potential relatives.
Mitochondrial (mtDNA) testing
Mitochondrial DNA tests trace your maternal lineage using the DNA in the mitochondria of your cells. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down unchanged by a mother to her children, whether they’re male or female, so this test can be taken by both men and women. Because this studies DNA passed from mother to mother, your direct maternal line can be traced back anywhere from 20-100 generations.
Only males can complete a Y-DNA test, as it looks at the Y-chromosome passed down from father to son. This chromosome passes down through generations almost unchanged and can be used to trace generations as far back as mtDNA testing. If you’re a woman looking to test your paternal side, you would need to ask your biological father, brother, paternal uncle, paternal grandfather, or a cousin who shares the same surname lineage to complete the test for you.
What else can DNA tests tell you?
Having your DNA tested can show you much more than the generations that came before you and where they came from. Some tests will be able to tell you how your body will react to a variety of prescription drugs in a process called pharmacogenetic testing, which is especially useful when looking for the right drug out of several appropriate drugs. In some cases, patients are forced to try several different medications in order to find one that works well for them. Pharmacogenetic testing bypasses this step, highlighting the medications that are best suited for your own DNA makeup, which can help you recover from certain illnesses sooner rather than later.
Similarly, DNA tests may show if you’re predisposed to developing illnesses throughout your life through what’s known as diagnostic testing. These can help patients detect and monitor genetic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and even cancer. If you know you have a higher chance of suffering from a specific illness, you can alter your lifestyle in order to prevent it from developing, or monitor the severity.
Some experts also claim that a DNA test can show you what your body needs as part of a balanced diet, coining the term “DNA diet”. In some cases, obesity is inherited. If you know you’re more likely to gain weight from certain foods, you can tailor your diet to ensure you don’t wind up suffering from obesity. Your DNA also controls your metabolism, so if you know more about your DNA you can build a meal plan that’s effective for you. For example, if there is a likelihood you have higher-than-average blood sugar, you may want to consume fewer carbs than the average person.
Completing a DNA test can give you a much deeper insight into your life. Whether this is from an ancestral perspective, or even giving you a glimpse into the potential future of your own health, analyzing your DNA gives you the chance to learn more about yourself. This alone arguably makes them worth the cost. As the practice of home DNA testing becomes more common, the prices of a kit are likely to become more affordable, giving everyone the chance to order a test.