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

23 and Me Review Summary

23 and Me is a leading genetic testing company offering DNA tests for health and ancestry. Read more in our 23 and Me review!

Ankeeta Shah

Results
Price
Privacy

Summary

23 and Me offers one of the largest DNA databases at a competitive price. However, past privacy issues have been reported.

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August 18, 2021

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 results are delivered through a web portal and mobile app (iOS and Android)
  5. Privacy: active sharing of aggregate customer data with researchers
  6. 23 and Me cost: $99-$499; no free DNA analysis options
  7. Alternatives: Nebula Genomics (Whole Genome Sequencing with advanced ancestry analysis and weekly updated reports)

23 and Me Introduction

This is a review of 23andMe (23 and Me, 23 & me), a genetic testing company is based out of Sunnyvale, California (Silicon Valley). The 23 and Me founder is Anne Wojcicki who started the company 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 using rigorous standards without the involvement of medical professionals. After purchasing a home DNA test, 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 23andMe review!

Did you know that the 23 and Me test decodes only 0.02% of your DNA? At Nebula Genomics, we offer the most affordable Whole Genome Sequencing! This is the most complete DNA test that decodes 100% of your autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and the Y chromosome. Whole Genome Sequencing will enable you to learn more about your ancestry, family members, and health than any other DNA test! Click here to learn more!

Review of 23 and Me Products and Services

Customers can choose to order one of three 23 and Me DNA test kits, ranging from $99 to $499. You can learn more about how their prices compare to other companies on our blog. Customers can order a kit online from 23andMe.com. They can also purchase products from major retailers such as Walgreens and Target. The collection kit includes instructions for how to provide a DNA sample to mail back to the company. Customers must register their 23andMe kit using their 23andMe login and use that 23andMe sign in to access their results. Once customers receive their results, they can download raw data and use it with other analysis sites and marketplaces such as GenePlaza and sequencing.com.

How long does 23andMe take? Sample processing takes 2-3 weeks. Depending on which 23 and Me kit customers purchase, different reports are included. 

The company often runs popular 23andMe sales, including the annual 23andMe Black Friday sale. These sales offer kits at up to 50% up. 23andMe coupon codes on sites like Groupon also offer discounts.

Testing kits offered by 23 and Me
Testing kits offered by 23 and Me

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

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

Ancestry Reports. 23andMe offers probably the best known for its ancestry testing. From their Ancestry Composition Report, results show customers what proportion of their DNA comes from each of the 45 worldwide genetic populations (e.g. Ashkenazi jewish, African, Native American, etc.). 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 through, an extinct species of hominids, through Neanderthal variants.

DNA Relatives Feature. The DNA relative finder is an optional feature, which allows customers to connect with genetic relatives on their family tree 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 reports on physical features (e.g. eye color, muscle composition), food preferences (e.g. cilantro), and some traits that are mainly for fun (ability to match musical pitch).

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

This part is a review of 23andMe health and ancestry DNA testing kit. The 23 and Me Health and Ancestry Service includes all features of the Ancestry + Traits, reporting plus additional 23andMe health reports:

Health Predispositions Reports. These are risk reports approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)* that help customers understand how genetics influences health outcomes, including breast and ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. Reports include health predispositions and carrier status regarding increased risk for developing diseases, including but not limited to, increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and celiac disease. Remember that increased cancer risk or risk of other diseases does not necessarily mean that you will develop the conditions.

Interested in genetic testing for hereditary cancer? You may be interested in these posts:

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 health problems — understand what genetic variants they may pass down to their children that could affect their health. This report includes carrier status of diseases such as sickle cell anemia.

*In 2013, 23 and Me received a warning letter from the FDA to stop marketing its testing kit, which provided health 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 genetic risk of developing certain medical conditions like Parkinson’s’ disease and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the terms of service, 23 and Me results are for research, informational, and educational use only and do not provide medical advice like professional medical tests.

How accurate is 23andMe? Despite its relationship with the FDA, 23andMe tests have been criticized as not being accurate enough for health care purposes.

Review of 23andMe + Membership ($29/year)

The 23andMe+ membership started on October 1, 2020. With this membership, users get access to 10+ exclusive genetic reports and new features as they become available. 

Customers purchase their Health + Ancestry at a discounted price of $169 with this membership for a total of $198. 

Some of the exclusive reports and features available in this yearly plan are:

  • Pharmacogenetic: Three reports to detect how your body processes certain medications.
  • Hearth Health: Influence of genetics on your chances of developing certain heart-related conditions. 
  • Enhanced Ancestry: advanced features to those of the Ancestry report, like access to 3,500 more DNA relatives. 

In general, this new service was not well received, especially by current customers. They felt that these features should be included in what they were already paying. Some clients agreed to participate in research to help 23andMe gain new insights into conditions. Hence, they felt that the results of this research they were part of were being locked behind a paywall.    

Customer support had to come up front and explain the 23andMe+ membership option and why it was placed behind a paywall. The company still offers this plan, but there are no reports on how successful it has been. 

Sample Reports are available on 23andMe’s website:

Carrier Status Report: Cystic Fibrosis

Sample 23 and Me 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.

What happens to the information 23andMe collects? 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.

Customers can reach customer service at 1-800-239-5230.

23 and Me in the News

23andMe focuses on using genetic information for medical research and drug discovery. With the sizable genomic database that the company has built, it 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 23anMe’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 data sharing and privacy concerns here: 23andMe is Terrifying, but Not for the Reasons the FDA Thinks.

In 2019, a journalist learns devastating health news from her 23andMe test results and seeks advice from genetic counselors. They highlight the personal dangers that may come with DNA testing, noting that they wished they had learned this health information from a person instead. 

More recently, in April 2021, the company completed a merger with Richard Branson’s VG Acquisition Corp. This merger helps make 23andMe more than just a genetics company but a healthcare and drug discovery brand, as pointed out by Anne Wojcicki, co-founder, and CEO.  Last month (July 2021), Marion Star, the local Marion news site, reported a woman who found a long-lost brother through 23andMe

Other 23 and Me Reviews

23andMe reviews are available on multiple websites.

  • 4.1 out of 5 stars for the Health + Ancestry service on their website with over 3600 reviews.  
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon with over 26,000 reviews. 
  • 1.9 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot with 200 reviews. Most people that gave poor reviews indicate that they never received a kit after paying for the service.  
  • 3.7 out of 5 stars on consumeraffairs.com with 132 ratings. 

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 genetics 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 on our website.

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

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 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 or Ancestry genetic test.


AncestryDNA23 and MeNebula Genomics
DNA Testing MethodMicroarray-based genotypingMicroarray-based genotypingWhole Genome Sequencing (30x coverage)
Information availableAncestry, health Ancestry, traits, health Weekly reports based on the latest research, data exploration tools, deep ancestry (learn more)
Able to upload raw DNA dataNoNoYes (23 and Me and Ancestry)
Tools to explore dataLimited LimitedYes (learn more)
Data accessYes (Ancestry format file)Yes (23 and Me format file)Yes (FASTQ, BAM, and VCF files)
Cost$99 – $119$99 – $199$0, $99, $299 
23 and Me vs Ancestry DNA vs Nebula Genomics

Are you interested in other ancestry and genealogy services? Check out these reviews:

  • 24Genetics (various tests for health, ancestry, sports, skin, pharmacogenomics, WES, and WGS)
  • African Ancestry ($299 per lineage)
  • AncestryDNA ($99 for ancestry test)
  • CRI Genetics ($99 for ancestry test)
  • DNA Land (free DNA upload for trait and ancestry analysis)
  • DNA Painter (first profile is free and subscriptions are available for others)
  • GedMatch Genesis (free DNA upload for genetic genealogy and paid advanced options)
  • Genovate ($99+ for relationship, health, fitness, and ancestry tests)
  • Living DNA (starting at $49)
  • MyHeritage ($79 for ancestry test, additional subscriptions for access to genealogy tools)
  • WeGene (for Asian ancestry)

Many of these options also offer ancestry + traits or health test analysis for an additional price.

If you want to focus on your maternal and/or paternal lineages, you can look at YFull or YSeq, services which analyze mtDNA or the Y chromosome to determine specific lineage haplotypes. Full Genomes also offers Y chromosome sequencing and analysis.

Did you like our 23andMe review? You can read more reviews on our blog and check out our complete guide to the best DNA test kit and other home tests.