DNA Testing Kits - Everything You Need to Know

Complete DNA Testing Guide
article by Sarah T. author
Our DNA is the key to a treasure chest of secrets. It provides valuable information about our genetic lines, can reunite families and is integral to our health and fitness. Today, it's easier than ever to unlock all that your DNA holds. At-home DNA testing kids are simple to use and offer a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be you!  

What is DNA?

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the blueprint for every living thing. It exists in plants, animals and – of course – people. Using differing combinations of four chemical bases, it acts as an instruction booklet for your cells; commanding amino acids to form into proteins, which in turn for into organs to create living beings.
Our DNA is unique. Each human strand is made up of 3 billion bases. 99% of these are the same – they’re what make us people – but those final units are responsible for our complete individuality. No two humans have the same DNA, as it’s inherited entirely randomly. Even siblings have a different genetic makeup – unless they’re identical twins!

Different brands of DNA exist in all of us. Chromosomal DNA is made up of autosomal DNA, mtDNA (or X-chromosome DNA) and Y-DNA (from the Y chromosome.) Individual tests can be done on each of these types.

Autosomal DNA Tests

Available for both males and females, testing the autosomal DNA will uncover secrets of your entire family tree. It can follow your genetic line back hundreds of years and provide information about location, race, and heritage. The test looks at both the maternal and paternal sides and can even help you match to distant relatives still alive today. It’s by far the most popular test and is regularly used for exploring genealogy and family history, thanks to its ability to break down and understand an individual’s DNA.

mtDNA Tests

Mitochondrial DNA (also known as mtDNA) is information solely inherited from your maternal lineage. By testing this information, you can discover knowledge about your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc. Though it’s significantly more limiting than the autosomal alternative, it’s ideal if you were separated from your family at birth and have no contact with your mother. It can also be useful if you’re looking for information about a female family member on your maternal side – but remember that it won’t include results for your mother’s father, grandfather, etc.

Y-DNA Tests

The final option focuses on the male-inherited Y chromosome. As it helps to specify gender, Y-DNA tests are only available for men. This type of kit is often used to illuminate the paternal history of a family, as it can follow your male heritage back for numerous generations. It can help identify specific relatives or provide a broader view of heritage. In some cases, Y-DNA tests are also used as a paternity test to establish who is the father of a child.

How to Find the Right DNA Test Method for Your Needs? 

To determine to right method, you first have to consider your needs. If you’re looking for an overview of your family history, go for the autosomal test, as it covers both sides and looks at your gene-base as a whole. If you want to learn more about a particular racial heritage or merely explore where your ancestors came from, it’s the top choice. However, if you’re looking for more specific results, the mtDNA and Y-DNA options have the potential to uncover up to 10,000 years of your ancestry. Perhaps you want to know more about a particular ancestor or gain a detailed understanding of your health and the potential risks. If this is the case, then the latter options are the best choice.

DNA Test Types

There are countless reasons you may want to take a DNA test. You don’t have to be interested in family history to find them beneficial. All across the globe, individuals are exploring their genetic make-up to improve their lives in endless ways. Having a deeper insight into what makes you, you, can play a major role in how we live our everyday lives, who we associate with and even our health and longevity.

Here are a few common types of DNA tests that users have benefitted from:

  • Ancestry DNA Tests

Finding out about your heritage is one of the main reasons to get involved. So, how do ancestry DNA tests work?  Using a sample of your saliva, you can receive a break down of your cultural history. Almost no-one is completely from where they think they’re from. To gain a greater understanding, it’s easy to do a Jewish ancestry DNA test, a Native American ancestry DNA test or an Asian DNA test– for example. Even if history has wiped out records of your lineage, you can still get results – as many have found from African American genealogy DNA testing.

Some people anticipate problems with ancestry DNA tests, but often the fears lie in myth. Many ask how accurate are the ancestry DNA tests, as they don’t believe the results can be credible. Although these sorts of home kits can’t pinpoint your family to exact locations, they can accurately trace your heritage to geographical regions – such as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, etc.

  • Pet DNA Tests – Dog DNA Test + Cat DNA Test

It’s not just people who get to benefit from these kits – you can also test your dog’s DNA! Many sites offer comprehensive packages for your pets, which can unveil information about their breed, origin and family history. Find out if your pooch is truly a pure breed or if you cat was once related to Egyptian royalty! You don’t have to splash out, as a cat or dog DNA test kit cost is extremely reasonable. They’re usually retailed at about half the price of a standard ancestry DNA test.

  • DNA Paternity Test

Testing for paternity is a common use of DNA kits. Numerous reasons exist that you could be unsure of your paternal heritage, but it’s easier than ever to confirm the truth. Using the Y-chromosome tests, it’s simple to identify your birth father. What is the cost of DNA paternity test? This is an important point. Legal paternal testing kits can set you back hundreds of dollars. A home testing kit can be as little as $30. While using the cheaper version will provide an answer, the government won’t recognize them as official.

  • DNA Heritage Test

While some people test their ancestry to find connections to individuals and reunite with long lost family members, others are content with simply knowing their region of origins. DNA test for heritage kits work the same as any other and will provide the user with a breakdown of percentages of their ethnic heritage. If you want to know how much does a heritage DNA test cost, it’s largely dependent on the provider. However, the price is likely to range between $50-$100.

  • Sibling DNA Test

Do you think you might have a long lost brother? Or have you lost touch with your close family and have no way to confirm your relationships. A full sibling DNA test can establish whether any two people are a) related and b) have the same parents. You don’t have to live close to your prospective family to find the truth; the tests can be done by mail and provide answers quickly. The sibling DNA testing kit cost is similar to the price of ancestry and heritage tests, and you can often combine them to get a truly comprehensive view of your close family.

  • DNA Health Testing

If you’re worried about genetic health risks, a dedicated DNA test for health results could be incredibly beneficial. Many conditions are passed down through generations, so it’s possible to DNA test for health issues. You can discover your risk factor for specific diseases, and even use the results to help with complicated diagnoses. Finding a DNA test with health report is easy, as many providers offer an ancestry and health DNA test package combined into one! The health DNA testing cost may be slightly more expensive, as it involves extra effort to research and categorize potential threats.

  • DNA Fitness Testing

It’s not just medical health that can benefit, DNA testing for fitness and nutrition can revolutionize your well being and help you become the best version of yourself. DNA testing for health and fitness works by investigating your body type and natural trends in your physique. From this, you can devise targeted exercise and diet plans, to capitalize on your genetic body and achieve optimum health. The DNA fitness testing cost can range from $100- $300, depending on the provider and the depth of analysis used. 

  • Prenatal DNA Testing

Paternity testing can be a sensitive subject that you need to resolve quickly and discreetly. DNA testing during prenatal pregnancy is a quick solution to this need. They only require one examination, and the results will be returned within a matter of weeks. Some worry about prenatal DNA testing accuracy, but tests after nine weeks are 99.99%. The only downside is the prenatal DNA testing cost, as they are more expensive than the postnatal alternative, and could set you back over $300. However, they are by far the best choice to give you peace of mind throughout your pregnancy.

Getting Started with a DNA Test – How Does DNA Testing Work?

If you’ve never done a DNA test before, it might seem like an overwhelming process. Fortunately, thanks to the internet age, it’s easier than ever. Many providers offer comprehensive testing kits. We’ve broken down all the important steps and FAQs to remove any of the illusions surrounding the process – and help you on your journey to discover your ancestral secrets.

How to Order a DNA Test

Many online websites offer DNA kits. Do some research and visit your chosen site – e.g., ancestry.com, MyHeritage, 23andME, etc. – to start off your order. You will usually be required to sign-up for the service and create an account. Then, simply add a DNA test kit to your cart, fill in the payment and delivery details and wait to receive all the information through the post.

To get the wider picture, we strongly encourage our readers to dig deeper into our detailed DNA testing reviews.

DNA Sample Collection Methods

If you’re squeamish or scared of needles – don’t fear! Most home testing kits use saliva as their testing sample, not blood! You’ll be provided with at least one cotton swab, and be instructed to take a scrape from somewhere in your mouth. Some tests specify that you swab the cheeks, other prefer the gums or inside of the lips. You’ll have to keep the cotton in your mouth for a prolonged duration – usually about 30 seconds. Each pack will provide specific instructions on the methodology, so be sure to read and follow this information closely.

What Do I Do Next?

Once you’ve completed the test, all that’s left to do is to return the sample by post and wait for your results. In some countries, there have been health concerns around sending bodily fluids by mail, but this has been overcome by providing sanitation packs to place the swab inside. Be sure to following postage instructions clearly, so you don’t invalidate the test.

At this point, you’ll also have to activate your kit so that the provider can match your sample with your online account. Usually, it’s easy to find this option on the website once you’ve purchased your pack. If you have any problems, contact the customer service for a resolution.

How Long Does a DNA Test Take?

How long your test will take is largely dependent on who you order it from. While genetic labs in hospitals and police stations can process results in 24-72 hours, home kits take a bit longer. Usually, you’ll be looking at a matter of weeks. Most people wait an average of 4-8 weeks to receive their full results. Be sure to check with the individual provider to determine a more accurate assessment of wait time.

How Do I Receive the DNA Test Results?

The easiest place to find your results is online. On your profile page, a section is allotted for this specific purpose. Log into your account and, once the results are updated, you should receive a notification. From here, you can visit the correct page and find a breakdown of your heritage, ethnicity and any other information you requested.

Some retailers will also send you a paper copy through the post, but it’s much easier to explore all the different breakdowns of your results on the web.

Are DNA Test Results Easy to Read?

Test results are split into a number of sections, to increase how easy they are to translate. First, you’ll receive a general breakdown. If you did a heritage test, this would include the main regions that your ancestors come from. It usually will specify continents – or certain areas in that continent – and a percentage for each place. Then, you’ll also have a more in-depth study. The second part will go into specific ethnicity and country origins, and also detail the ‘trace regions’ in your DNA – which are areas from which you gain <10% of your genetics.

If you’ve paid for more than just ancestry, these details will then also be included. This could be in the form of a health report, information about specific relatives or a detailed analysis of your lineage across the generations. Once again, the specific format is dependent on which home DNA kit you chose to use.

How Accurate are DNA Tests?

The tests measure your DNA at approximately 700,00 locations across your genome. They then take your results, process the data and compare it to the populations of 350+ regions across the world. While your DNA test can’t pinpoint you to a particular town or city, it provides an accurate overview of your genetic history.

Ancestry websites also use other results within their database to further specify your DNA. They could match you with specific relatives who’ve already input their data, or simply use this information to help calibrate your test to the most precise result possible. As online DNA test services continue to grow in popularity, their accuracy will also increase.

How Much is a DNA Test?

DNA test prices vary depending on who you buy from and what you want from the test. Most good ancestry sites offer a subscription package for about $20-$40 per month, which includes the price of the test. There’s also a singular payment option, if you only want the DNA results, which usually prices about $100. Other than the one-off payment, there are no other costs attached, as all the postage is pre-paid and they provide packaging.

What is the Best DNA Test Kit for Me?

To determine the best DNA test kit for you, you have to ask one important question – what are you trying to find out? With a clear goal in mind, it’s easy to look through the features of different commercial kits, to decide on the best one to use. Your reasons could include:

  • Finding your ancestors
  • Learning about your heritage
  • Confirming paternity
  • Discovering long lost relatives
  • Improving your health & fitness

With such a variety of high-quality kits on offer, finding the top choice for your needs is simple. By using our guide to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process, you are now equipped to find the best DNA test and uncover those family secrets!