How reliable is an at home DNA test and should you try one?

Posted at 2:06 PM, Dec 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-26 00:50:42-05

You may have gotten one under the tree this morning -- an at home DNA test. They promise to connect you with your past, your ancestors, and most importantly, yourself. But how reliable are they?

"It's a puzzle," explains Dr. Melissa Wilson Sayres, a genetics expert and professor at ASU.

"So we're trying to solve the puzzle!"

It really is a labyrinth of millions of DNA particles! strives to bring out the genetics geek and enthusiast in all of us!

For $99, the company sends you a special kit. It comes along with instructions and a test tube that collects your saliva. (That's right -- your spit holds the secret behind your DNA! Well, really cheek cells that may come off in your spit.)

After you send it off, the scientists and 23andMe extract your DNA and prepare a customized report, breaking down your DNA over 31 different heritage regions.

But in a world where we as humans share almost half of our DNA with bananas and more than 99% of our DNA with each other, how do we know what to look for? And how accurate is it?

For starters, 23andMe says they're specifically examining the more than half a million DNA segments where our chromosomes differ -- not looking at the overlapping parts. They also say they're the first and only consumer genetic service that meets FDA standards.

As an independent genetics expert, Dr. Wilson Sayres believes the results are pretty reliable and getting more accurate as time goes on.

"They're getting better...and they're getting better every day that more people are contributing their DNA."

But Dr. Wilson Sayres points out that certain population groups tend to be better documented in samples like these. For instance, she says typically people of European decent take these tests in higher numbers, thus, there would be more of their DNA in the database. People in other groups may not be as well-represented, but that is also something that improves with time and with more people taking the test.

Dr. Wilson Sayres also warns that people should really be ready before embarking on their own personal DNA journey. That means being okay with whatever the results say -- or don't say. That could mean being linked to a half sibling you didn't know about or possibly finding out something about your heritage that surprises you.