How to tell if an online DNA test is legitimate 

There are many varieties of DNA testing, some that are extensive scans of your DNA and some that provide focused or partial information. You can test for information about ethnicity, you can search for genetic relatives by matching their DNA, or you can search for information with medical significance. Some of the options you can only have through a medical provider, and others you can order for yourself directly over the Internet.

It’s hard to know who to trust, especially if you find them on the Internet and order the test for yourself. As a person who has taken many of these tests and a licensed and certified genetic counselor who works with people who test, I’ll explore the benefits and limitations of these testing options next.  

Here is some advice for checking out the legitimacy of a DNA company you find online:  

·       Check out the company website first. See if they identify the people who run the company by name, including their training and credentials.  

·       Take note of which country they are based in; some countries have lax laws about online business practices.  

·       The website should provide a customer service hotline or chat box for you to send in questions.  

·       The person you connect with over the phone should be familiar with terminology such as VUS, sequencing tests, and exome testing.  

·       The company should list at least one genetic counselor on their team, identified by name and with verifiable credentials. Testing companies that employ genetic counselors place value on clear communication and support for customers who have questions. 

·       Are they selling a different product, such as vitamin supplements or a sauna for detoxification, and using DNA testing to encourage you to buy their other product? There is a valid concern that tests are being misused to convince people to buy things they don’t really need, based on questionable DNA results.

If medical DNA testing were a multi-course meal, the DNA health reports offered by popular at-home test companies like 23andMe and MyHeritage can be thought of as the appetizer. It is easy to become falsely alarmed or falsely reassured unless you take the time to understand the limits of each report.

Make sure to read through the scientific details section of a report to understand everything the results can and cannot tell you. A genetic counselor can be a partner for this, especially if you have a lot of questions that arise after you open your results which can take a few weeks to come back and are available to you once logged into your online account. 

At-home DNA testing for medical reasons will continue to grow in the future. These tests can be an important way for you to learn about a few conditions with known genetic causes and to learn about how genes are one factor influencing disease. If you decide to order a test for yourself, prepare for what’s to come. A first DNA test is rarely the end of a journey, it’s usually just the start!  


This article was originally published in August 2019 issue of Trail Living Magazine.