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The best DNA test kit 2020

DNA test kit
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Home DNA test kits are enormously popular, and according to MIT Technology Review, as of February 2019, more than 26 million people worldwide had taken one. It's not easy to know which one to choose though, so we've put the most popular kits to the test to find out which one gives you the most detailed, accurate and interesting results.

DNA test kits all work in a similar way: you send off a cheek swab, or a sample of saliva or blood, then receive a set of results that you can view through an online dashboard (or, in some cases, as a PDF) within a few weeks.

Some kits will give you data on your heritage, providing an estimate of where your distant ancestors are likely to have hailed from. These services might also be able to put you in touch with distant relatives, and help you build your family tree. Others focus on your predisposition to certain diseases, and whether you're likely to be a carrier for genetic conditions such as sickle cell anemia.

Whichever one you choose, bear in mind that the data provided is only a guide. In the case of health tests in particular, it's important to discuss the results with your doctor if you're concerned, and if you know that you have a family history of cancer, for example, it might be wiser for any genetic testing to be carried out with professional counselling.

To find out more, check out our full guide to getting to grips with DNA testing.

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AncestryDNA

(Image credit: AncestryDNA)

1. AncestryDNA

Lots of users and great resources make this an excellent DNA test

Collection method: Saliva sample

Great for family tree building
Excellent genealogy software
Subscription fees
No health data

AncestryDNA, as the name suggests, is focused on helping you track your heritage and complete your family tree. If you're interested in finding out your susceptibility to certain health conditions, you'll be better served by one of the other DNA test kits in this roundup.

However, if you're dying to know more about your family then AncestryDNA is the best kit you can choose. That's mostly thanks to its sheer popularity; its millions of users mean there's an unusually large database at its disposal, and you're far more likely to be able to connect with distant members of your family than with other tests. Indeed, you may find thousands of people who share DNA with you.

You'll also be presented with an interactive map showing where your ancestors hail from. Clicking on a country will allow you to learn more about it, and if a lot of your relatives lived there, you'll be able to see figures broken down into individual regions.

These extensive genealogy tools come at a price, though. While most DNA test kits carry a one-off fee, some of AncentryDNA's best features (such as the ability to create a family tree and connect with relatives) require a subscription. There are different plans available depending on home much extra data you want to access.

It's an excellent package and ideal for anyone building up their family tree.

Read our full AncestryDNA review

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23andMe

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2. 23andMe

Detailed and fascinating results, all presented clearly

Collection method: Saliva sample

In-depth results
Excellent dashboard interface
Ancestry and health info
Not many genealogy resources

23andMe is one of the most popular home DNA testing kits in the world, and it's easy to see why. 

There are two kits available, both of which are reasonably priced (with discounts often available on Black Friday). The Ancestry test is the cheaper of the two, and is the one to opt for if you're particularly interested in tracing your heritage and building your family tree. The slightly more expensive Health and Ancestry kit also tells you your predisposition to certain illnesses, as well as specific traits (such as hair and eye color), and carrier status for conditions such as sickle cell anemia.

This is a lot more than most DNA health tests give you, and while the traits section is only really there for novelty value, it's all interesting information.

If that sounds like an overwhelming amount of data, don't worry; it's all presented very neatly in an online dashboard (no awkward PDF reports here), with clear graphs and charts accompanied by plenty of explanatory text to help you interpret them.

You can also use 23andMe's services to contact relatives, and as with MyHeritage, below, the service's sheer popularity means you're likely to find some matches.

Read our full 23andMe review

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MyHeritage

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3. MyHeritage

Comprehensive ancestry and health results, with sensible advice

Collection method: Cheek swab

Extensive genetic screening
Huge ancestry database
Good explanation of results
Some tools need a subscription

MyHeritage is one of the most affordable DNA test kits in this roundup, though as with AncestryDNA, some of its best features require an ongoing subscription. These include AutoClusters, which allow you to find shared ancestors

There are two tests available: the Standard Kit, which covers genealogy exclusively, and the Health and Ancestry Kit, which also includes genetic health risks and potential carrier status. We tested the latter service, and found that although the results took quite a long time to arrive compared to some of its competitors, they were clearly presented and accompanied by plenty of advice to help you interpret them.

We were particularly impressed by the health results, which came with guidance to put them into perspective. For example, smoking will have far more impact on your chances of developing lung cancer than genetic factors, and if you know you have a family history of a particular disease them it's wisest not to undergo genetic screening with proper support in place. It's sensible advice that helps keep things in context.

Read our full MyHeritage review

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CircleDNA

(Image credit: Holly Brockwell)

4. CircleDNA

A well-rounded package, but an expensive one

Collection method: Cheek swab

Incredibly detailed
Includes lifelong updates
Very costly
Limited ancestry database

CircleDNA (owned by Prenetics) offers a range of testing kits, some of which are accompanied by coaching and counselling to help you make the most of your results. The Circle Premium package is very expensive, costing £499 / $629 / AU$929, but gives you over 500 data points to browse through. These are presented as a PDF, but CircleDNA also offers a mobile app that offers much more context and information, helping you properly interpret your results.

Some of these are serious, such as your relative risk of certain illnesses, but others are more frivolous, such as your language ability and entrepreneurial tendency. These latter qualities will be affected much more by environmental factors than genetics, so they are really just a novelty.

CircleDNA first launched in Hong Kong, and that's reflected in its heritage results, which are compiled from a pool of data that leans heavily towards Asia and Europe. Central American ancestry isn't represented at all. Prenetics says its data set is growing as more people take part, but it's worth bearing in mind.

Read our full CircleDNA review

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Living DNA

(Image credit: Living DNA)

5. Living DNA

DNA test results that are nicely presented, but sometimes vague

Collection method: Cheek swab

Simple mouth swab
Clearly presented results
Video instructions provided
Imprecise ancestry results

Living DNA, like many of the companies here, produces a range of different tests covering ancestry and health, with a premium option that covers both.

We tested the Ancestry kit, and found it refreshingly simple to use, with a video guide showing you how to take the requisite cheek swab and send it off for analysis. It's far easier than spitting into a tube.

Living DNA's data set is a similar size to those of other testing companies, and we found its ancestry results surprisingly detailed at first, going as far as to pinpoint individual counties within the UK. However, results for the rest of Europe were more vague, suggesting only entire countries rather than regions within them.

The level of detail you receive will therefore depend on your background, which is worth bearing in mind if you know your ancestors hail from around the world.

Living DNA can also help you contact potential relatives through a service called Family Networks. This will, of course, depend on your distant family members having taken the same test, but it's a nice idea and one that could be helpful if you're trying to grow your family tree.

Read our full Living DNA review