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How 23andMe works

To get started with the 23andMe® Personal Genetic Service, navigate to our online store and choose the service option that’s right for you. Only one collection kit is needed per person regardless of the service purchased; if you purchase the Ancestry Service, you will be able to add all of the existing Carrier Status*, Genetic Health Risk*, Wellness and Traits reports later for an additional $125.

Once you have received your saliva collection kit, you will need to register the collection tube’s barcode so we can connect that tube to you and process your sample. Be sure to provide your sample following the detailed instructions included in your saliva collection kit, and mail your kit back to us in the pre-paid packaging.

After our laboratory receives your sample, your results will be available in your online account in approximately 6-8 weeks. You can track your sample's progress by logging in to your online account.

Still have questions? Select the topic that you would like to learn more about:

    • When will I receive results?
    • How can I view my results? Will I receive a printed copy?
    • What type of DNA analysis does 23andMe do?
    • What types of DNA are analyzed by 23andMe?
    • How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?
    • What is the difference between genotyping and sequencing?
    • What type of sample can 23andMe analyze?
    • Who can use the 23andMe Personal Genetic Service?
    • Can multiple people use the same saliva collection kit?
When will I receive results?

Sample processing typically takes 6-8 weeks from the time your sample is received at the lab. Processing times are estimates, and are not a guarantee that your results will be returned by a particular date. While samples are processed in the order in which they are received, some samples may require additional steps to be processed successfully, which may extend the processing time.

You will receive an email when your results are available to view in your online 23andMe account.

How can I view my results?

After you receive your 23andMe saliva collection kit, you will be prompted to create an online account to register your collection tube. The information available to you from the 23andMe Personal Genetic Service will be presented in the context of our web-based reports, tools, and features accessible through your account online.

Within your online 23andMe account, you will have the ability to print individual reports (available for select reports only) or a summary of all your results.

Keep in mind that 23andMe is exclusively an online service, and we do not provide a printed or printable report via mail or email. In order to receive the service, you need to have a valid email address from which you can send and receive messages. You will also need access to a computer or mobile device that connects to the internet.

What type of DNA analysis does 23andMe do?

Our genomes, which are composed of DNA sequences, contain the instructions for making every cell in our body. Most of our DNA sequences are identical from person to person, but there are specific positions in the sequence that are known to vary between individuals. For example, at the same position, one person might have the DNA letter C while another person might have a T. These DNA differences are called variants. 23andMe analyzes your DNA by looking at certain genetic variants in the genome. We determine which version you have at each position using a process called genotyping.

Although the human genome is estimated to contain about 10-30 million genetic variants, many of them are correlated due to their close physical proximity to each other. Thus, one genetic variant is often representative of many nearby variants, and the specific variants we look at provide very good coverage of common variation across the entire genome.

What types of DNA are analyzed by 23andMe?

23andMe analyzes your DNA by looking at certain genetic variants across the entire genome—chromosomes 1-22 (autosomal DNA), sex chromosomes (X Y), and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?

Once our lab receives your sample, DNA is extracted from cells contained in your saliva. The lab then copies the DNA many times—a process called amplification—duplicating the tiny amount extracted from your saliva until there is enough to be genotyped.

In order to be genotyped, the amplified DNA is “cut” into smaller pieces, which are then applied to our DNA chip (also known as a microarray), a small glass slide with millions of microscopic “beads” on its surface. Each bead is attached to a “probe," a bit of DNA that matches one of the genetic variants that we test. The cut pieces of your DNA stick to the matching DNA probes. A fluorescent label on each probe identifies which version of that genetic variant your DNA corresponds to.

The following video gives you a behind-the-scenes look at some of these steps taking place at our lab:

What is the difference between genotyping and sequencing?

Though you may hear both terms in reference to DNA, genotyping and sequencing refer to slightly different techniques.

Genotyping is the process of determining which genetic variants an individual possesses. Genotyping can be performed through a variety of different methods, depending on the variants of interest and the resources available. For looking at many different variants at once, especially common variants, genotyping chips are an efficient and accurate method. They do, however, require prior identification of the variants of interest.

Sequencing is a method used to determine the exact sequence of a certain length of DNA. You can sequence a short piece, the whole genome, or parts of the genome (such as the “exome," which are the regions of the genome that contain the the instructions for RNAs (ribonucleic acid) and proteins). Depending on the region, a given stretch of sequence may include some DNA that varies between individuals, in addition to regions that are constant. Thus, sequencing can be used to genotype someone for known variants, as well as identify variants that may be unique to that person.

23andMe uses genotyping, not sequencing, to analyze your DNA. Sequencing technology has not yet progressed to the point where it is feasible to sequence an entire person’s genome quickly and cheaply enough to keep costs down for consumers. It took the Human Genome Project, a consortium of multiple research labs, over 10 years to sequence the whole genomes of just a few individuals.

For people with specific needs (undiagnosed medical issues, for example, or intense curiosity and a generous budget), sequencing will become a more and more attractive option. For now, though, genotyping technologies, such as those used by 23andMe, provide an efficient and cost-effective way of evaluating genetic variation in individuals and across populations.

What type of sample can 23andMe analyze?

The 23andMe Personal Genetic Service can only be performed using a saliva sample collected with the saliva collection kit that we provide. The size of the saliva sample required for analysis is about 2 mL.

Saliva samples offer a convenient and non-invasive method for DNA sample collection compared to hair and blood samples. Cheek swab samples of DNA (as you may have seen on television programs or in movies) do not consistently provide enough DNA for the testing that we conduct.

Unfortunately, we are unable to analyze any other type of sample.

Who can use the 23andMe Personal Genetic Service?

Most people who are able to produce saliva (~2 mL) and are able to spit can usually produce a viable sample. However, if you have received a bone marrow transplant, we cannot recommend that you participate in 23andMe. If you are undergoing medical treatment that reduces your white blood cell count, such as chemotherapy, it is best to wait at least two weeks after your last treatment or until your white blood cell count has returned to normal.

Can multiple people use the same saliva collection kit?

No, one collection kit is needed per person.

 

*The 23andMe PGS test uses qualitative genotyping to detect clinically relevant variants in the genomic DNA of adults from saliva collected using an FDA-cleared collection device (Oragene·DX model OGD-500.001) for the purpose of reporting and interpreting genetic health risks and reporting carrier status. It is not intended to diagnose any disease. The relevance of each report varies based on ethnicity. Each genetic health risk report describes if a person has variants associated with a higher risk of developing a disease, but does not describe a person’s overall risk of developing the disease. These reports are not intended to tell you anything about your current state of health, or to be used to make medical decisions, including whether or not you should take a medication or how much of a medication you should take. Our carrier status reports can be used to determine carrier status, but cannot determine if you have two copies of any genetic variant. These carrier reports are not intended to tell you anything about your risk for developing a disease in the future or anything about the health of your fetus, or your newborn child's risk of developing a particular disease later in life. For Gaucher Disease Type 1, we provide a single report that includes information on both carrier status and genetic health risk.


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