The Baskin Robbins Problem

Note that the sale prices are no longer in effect.

The genetic genealogy market has been spreading its wings lately, expanding into health related products.  Of course, 23andMe was originally founded on the principle of genetic empowerment, that we can make better choices when we know our inherent health risks.  Ironically, just as 23andMe has started to invest more in genealogy, some of their biggest DNA competitors are following them into the health market.

The immediate upshot, though, is a bunch of companies offering a bewildering array of test versions. MyHeritage now offers two products, 23andMe three, and AncestryDNA and Living DNA four each.  Choosing one is like trying to pick a flavor at the ice cream shop.  Fortunately, as with ice cream, we can have more than one. 

With the holiday sales in full swing, an overview of the options is sorely needed.  This blog post summarizes the different offerings and makes some recommendations.  Sale prices and sale end-dates are also noted.

Genealogy Versus Traits Versus Health

There are three main types of DNA tests.  In order of general utility for genealogy, they are autosomal, Y-chromosomal, and mitochondrial.  Most of our DNA is autosomal (atDNA), and that’s the type of DNA used for the genealogy and health reports discussed here.  The standard atDNA tests look at hundreds of thousands of spots, called SNPs, in our DNA.

We share more atDNA, on average, with our closer relatives than with our more distant cousins.  That’s why it’s so useful for solving family puzzles.  Our atDNA also contains important information about our bodies.  Some traits and diseases are acquired, like a tattoo or the flu, but others, like freckles or Alzheimers risk, are built into our genetic makeup.  The latter are what these new DNA reports address.

Because the atDNA tests we do for genealogy also contain a lot of genetic trait information, the testing companies can offer add-on features without the consumer having to take an additional test.  For a fee, the company can simply do a deeper analysis the data they already have.  And for the Grand Slam of health analysis, one can do a whole genome sequence (WGS), providing even more data for analysis.

The companies are, for the most part, separating their reports into tiers, one for non-medical traits and one for health-related ones.  Some are even offering concierge-type services with one-on-one guidance from professionals.

The options summarized in this table are discussed in more detail below.  Prices are for the US market and may not be available elsewhere.  Sale prices for AncestryDNA in Canada, the UK, and Australia are listed below the table.

Genealogy Traits Traits only Genealogy + Health Concierge
(sale ends 2 Dec)
$49 $10,
26 traits
n.a. $79,
43 reports
$98 for first 6-months, NGS
(sale ends 2 Dec)
$79 included,
>30 traits
n.a. $99,
>85 reports
MyHeritage (ends 29 Nov) $39 n.a. n.a. $79,
28 reports
Living DNA $49/$69 included, some traits $89, no medical reports $129, traits only, no medical reports n.a.
FamilyTreeDNA $59 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.
  • gift subscriptions in the USA are 50% off.
  • AncestryDNA in Canada is $69 CAD (ends 2 December) and gift subscription are 40% off.
  • AncestryDNA in the United Kingdom is 49 (ends 2 December).
  • AncestryDNA in Australia is $88 AUD and gift subscriptions are 20% off (ends 2 December). 
  • 23andMe in the United Kingdom is 63 for Ancestry + Traits and 74 for Ancestry + Health (ends 2 December).

32 Flavors and Then Some

AncestryDNA has the largest genealogical database-over 15 million people-of all of the companies.  That makes it my first recommendation for anyone pursuing family history, especially for those with unknown parents or grandparents.  Their basic genealogy test (US$59 on sale) includes ethnicity estimates and matching to relatives in the database. 

For an extra $10, you can access 26 trait reports.  These are mainly non-medical features, like finger length, earwax type, and vitamin responses.  Most are things you already know about yourself, but it’s fun to learn more about the underlying genetics.  For example, I’ve never much liked sweets.  My poor German grandmother baked up a storm every time I visited, and I ate a few cookies only to please her.  Turns out, I’m genetically over-sensitive to sugar and insensitive to umami, so I prefer savory foods.

The AncestryHealth product reports on medically-relevant genetic markers.  It comes in two tiers, Core (US$149), which is available now, and Plus ($98 for the test plus a 6-month subscription), which will be available in early 2020.  The AncestryHealth Core includes nine health conditions, like breast cancer risk, and eight wellness traits, like lactose tolerance.  You can read more about it here.  

AncestryHealth Plus will be based on next-generation sequencing, the same technology used for whole genome sequencing.  How much of the genome will be analyzed and at what coverage remains to be seen.  It will include all of the features of Core as well as new reports on a regular basis.  It’s only available to existing AncestryDNA customers.

For straight-up genealogy, 23andMe is the second test you should do, as their database of more than 10 million is second only to Ancestry’s.  If you can afford both AncestryDNA and this one, do it!  If you’re mainly interested in trait and health reports, you’ll want to start with 23andMe.

23andMe are now offering more than 30 trait reports as part of their entry-level Ancestry + Traits test (US$79 on sale).  This test also includes relative matching, ethnicity estimates, yDNA and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups, a Neanderthal report, and an optional chromosome browser.

Their Health + Ancestry test (US$99 on sale, 50% off) includes everything in the Ancestry + Traits test as well as more than 55 additional reports on health predispositions, carrier status, and wellness.  You can upgrade the Ancestry + Traits test to Health + Ancestry for $125, but at the current sale prices, you’re better off doing the Health portion now if you think you might want it. 

23andMe recently offered a concierge-level option called VIP Health + Ancestry (US$399, $100 off).  It includes two DNA tests, priority lab processing, one year of premium customer support, and a 30-minute phone consultation for the Ancestry results.  This would be a good option for a couple planning a family. 

There are rumors that 23andMe will be offering a whole-genome sequence test in the future.

MyHeritage burst onto the scene in the past couple of years and is growing rapidly, with a database of more than 3 million.  The company is particularly strong in Europe, so those with recent European ancestors will want to be in their database.  MyHeritage also consistently has the best prices on the market, currently US$59 for their Ancestry test.  It includes relative matching, ethnicity estimates, and a chromosome browser.  

Their new Health + Ancestry test (US$199) adds 28 personalized health reports to the basic Ancestry test.  There are 15 reports on genetic risk and 13 on carrier status. 

Living DNA has a relatively small database and is primarily focused on the UK market.  They are best known for their detailed regional ethnicity estimates for the British Isles.  They now offer four levels of testing.  None of them currently include genetic disease risk or carrier status.

The Starter kit (US$49 on sale) is their entry-level test, with a continent-level ethnicity estimate, relative matching, and a sampling of wellness and fitness reports.  It can be upgraded later for a fee.

The Ancestry kit (US$79 on sale) includes global and subregional ethnicity estimates, relative matching, and yDNA and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

The Wellbeing kit (US$99) is focused on health and fitness.  It analyzes your metabolism, nutritional needs, and fitness and makes recommendations for a healthier lifestyle.  This tier also includes relative matching and global ethnicity estimates.

Living DNA’s Ancestry + Wellbeing test (US$149) encompasses everything in the lower-tier products:  sub-regional ethnicity estimates, relative matching, haplotypes, and the full complement of wellness reports.

So Many Choices!

With so many choices, you’re sure to find a DNA test that meets your needs.  For genealogy, and especially for unknown parentage searches, you will want to buy both the AncestryDNA and 23andMe tests.  This post should help you decide whether you want the ancestry-only tests or the trait and health reports, too.  If you’re only interested in genealogy, you can then transfer the data into the MyHeritage database for free, with a $29 fee to unlock some features.  Then again, at these sale prices, you might as well test directly with them, and you’ll need to buy a test for their health reports.  Living DNA’s database is too small for most genealogical applications at this point, but for those with recent ancestors from the British Isles, the detail of their ethnicity estimates is excellent.

Updates to this Post

  • 5 November 2019 – updated prices for MyHeritage
  • 8 November 2019 – updated Canadian prices for AncestryDNA

8 thoughts on “The Baskin Robbins Problem”

  1. Another great in depth report; thank you.

    I have been on the fence regarding the additional health reports. It could cause worry in some types of people where they found dwell on the results. But also it could be fascinating with questions answered. Such as both my mum dad and myself have had lung issues (we all had TB), and it would be interesting to know if there was a genetic weakness that shows up. I just could be tempted if MyHeritage have a sale on :-).

  2. Thanks so much for this timely summary of the subject tests. Can we consider you the “Consumer Reports” source on Genetics DNA ?

    1. Promethease is not a testing company. It is a site that lets you upload data you already have and analyzes the medically relevant SNPs. Despite promising that they would never sell the data, the entire site was recently purchased by MyHeritage.

  3. I’m in Australia, so health reports aren’t included in 23andMe’s report, it is just Ancestry + traits. I see it’s currently on sale for $79, but it’s often on sale for this price given no health reports are included.
    Do you know if Cyber Monday, Black Friday or any other specific period would see 23andMe’s Ancestry + Traits report lower than $79? TIA

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