Some Basics About Using 23andMe

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who received their health information prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will only have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data. These new customers may receive health reports in the future dependent on FDA marketing authorization.

Can 23andMe sample my dead relatives and why do you use spit to extract my DNA?

Inquiring minds want to know, or at least a lot of our customers do.
There really are no dumb questions and if you have something to ask, we’ve probably heard it before. 23andMe has a lot of resources for folks trying to learn the basics; from how do I register a kit to what’s a SNP.

While we like to write about interesting genetic breakthroughs and compelling stories about people using 23andMe in unique ways on the blog, there’s something to be said about just covering the basics.

Like why we use spit and can’t sample your dead relatives.

Leave it to two science teachers to attack these pressing questions and many more.

Dale Basler and Brian Bartel, who when they’re not molding young minds also have a podcast and blog called Lab Out Loud, spent some time with 23andMe scientist Emily Drabant talking about science and some of the basics of 23andMe.

Dale and Brian asked about spit samples and dead relatives along with questions about how our Relative Finder determines how closely related someone is to you or the relative importance of your individual risks for a particular disease or how that risk compares to the average.

Check out the Lab Out Loud’s podcast.


  • Ted J Cooper

    Very confused about the results I just obtained. Just got the email saying my results were “in” and went to see what was there. Three basic sections: ancestory, health, diseases. I saw no writeup for how to follow the path through the data. What I saw at every step in the pages was “you need to answer more questions for us”. After 2.5 hours of answering questions in various sections, I still have no idea what the DNA testing showed about me. Eventually a new page appeared that indicated based on my answers that some diseases increased in probability and others went down.

    But I saw no ROADMAP on how to go through the pages to learn what the analysis showed about me and my ancestry. Please put up a simple 1-2 page description of how the typical person should work through the pages to see what has been learned about the tested person.
    Dr. Ted J. Cooper
    not-a-happy-camper

    • ScottH

      Dr. Cooper,
      First off our apologies about the difficulty you’re having navigating the site. You are correct we do not have a “roadmap” telling you how to work through your data, but we do have a lot of tools that we hope can make that easier.
      First of all there is quite a lot of information and that in and of itself makes it difficult for users sometimes — where do I go first. Below I’ve listed a few blog posts that we’ve done that highlight certain aspects of the service telling you more about how to explore your ancestry, your health or traits. But you can navigate through each of these through by starting with the My Results section.
      For both your health results and your ancestry results there are overviews. In the case of your health results we try to highlight the most important results first summarizing disease risk, carrier status, drug response and traits. For ancestry, we do something similar by summarizing your ancestry composition, the number of matches for DNA relatives and more information about your paternal and maternal lines.
      You can choose to take the next step by delving into any one of these summaries, where you will find more details regarding your results and supporting documents regarding the data itself.
      Some helpful posts:
      Ancestry
      Health
      Traits

    • Kim

      Dr. Cooper – I agree with you 100%. I am so very confused. :(

      • Carolyn Johnson

        For different reasons, I agree with Dr. Cooper.
        Until I get my DNA results back, I have **no** plans to complete **any** of the “questionnaires” or
        “Surveys”. Although I could guess at some inherited conditions in my families, I’m looking forward to seeing the pure DNA indicators, without the potential impact of integrating the “survey” answers into my results. If I tell you my parents were from Korea and China respectively – guess what? I’m betting you turn around and tell me I most likely have black hair and black eyes. Duh! Those kind of inferred answers are decidedly **not** what I’m looking forward to getting. I hope to have results based on the science and not on my “survey” answers. Please advise what I can expect !

        • ScottH

          Carolyn, That’s not how the surveys work or is it the purpose of the surveys. We do want people to answer survey questions because collectively this information allows us to do genome wide association studies and further our research. Your survey answers are not factored into the information that we report back to you on your genetic risk, traits or ancestry. That information is gleaned from your DNA. We report to you on your genetic risks for more than 240 diseases and conditions, and whether you are a carrier for more than 40 inherited conditions. We also report to you on how your genetics will impact your response to different medications. On the ancestry side, we look at your maternal line, and if you are a male your paternal and maternal line. Because we also look at the autosomes, we can return information on your relatives on all sides of your family. On average customers find hundreds of distant — third to sixth cousins — and on some occasions much closer relatives through our Relative Finder tool. This is not a comprehensive list but if you go to the main page you can dig down into the service and see for yourself.

        • Carolyn Johnson

          Thank you, ScottH for your very helpful reply. I’m glad to understand a little better how the process works and I’ll look forward to completing the surveys, etc., after my DNA results are finalized.

  • Marjorie Beggs

    I cannot find any information on your website about how I can share my data with my doctors. I would like to be able to do this and they are not members of 23 and me. Please let me know how to manage this.
    Thanks.
    Marjorie

    • ScottH

      Marjorie,
      Right now the best way to share your information with your doctor is to print it out. There is an option to print out a PDF of your health information.

  • Gintar

    What is definition for European, Near Eastern, African and other descents? We know that all of us have African descent.

    • Army1987

      It’s based on where your ancestors lived 500 years ago.

  • Marjorie Lewis

    We are having problems collecting enough saliva for a test from by eighty-plus year-old uncle. Is there any other way to provide you with a DNA sample for analysis. Can you use the check scrape procedure?

    • ScottH

      We do have kits for people who have trouble producing enough saliva. You need to contact our Customer Care(CustomerCare@23andme.com.) for information on that.

  • David Hopkins

    Here’s a suggestion for improving the usefulness of the search function when used to check for a particular surname among members listing their ancestors surnames. Currently, just a link to that person is shown (and sometimes the option to invite the person to share genomes) when clicking on surnames listed in one’s own profile. If one is trying to connect with others with the same ancestral surnames, and who are actually related, it would be useful to show the percentage shared information between the searcher and the person listing the same name. The first three or four names listed in the Relative Finder can be searched and show the percentage shared with any matches, but it would be useful to be able to see the same information by clicking on each of the surnames listed in the searcher’s profile. Thanks.

  • Roland Rhoades IV

    Re 23andme Family Trees:
    Since I couldn’t get any answers on this, since they are in beta, I thought this might be helpful.
    1. I use Internet Explorer. You cannot upload a gedcom with IE. Use Firefox. It seems to be quick and simple that way.
    2. If you manage other accounts, ie. I and my parents are all in the same account since I manage them all and they are unable to at their age, Upload a gedcom for the youngest person and then connect you and then your parents to your one gedcom. And by all means test your parents/grandparents if they are still alive. Each generation back un-dilutes your results.

  • William Balk

    So.. maybe a bit off topic I guess, but I couldn`t find a relevant topic elsewhere. So here it goes. On the main home menu on the site I have the option of answering quick questions. So I did. But I couldn`t quit figure out the logic in the questions. And since I want those questions answered correctly, I want to know the logic behind the questions first, before I answer any more questions. Let me explain. I`m asked if my doctor ever diagnosed me with, I don`t know, something. I can answer: yes, no, not sure. So, my initial response was `no`. But… How would I know for sure? My doctor didn`t diagnosed me for anything, until I go to my doctor :) So, the logic would be to answer `no`, but maybe I have something right now that I don`t know of. So, my logic would tell me to answer `Not sure`. Even though my doctor never diagnosed me with anything.

    So my questions is: in such a case, would it be wiser to answer `no` or `not sure`?

    Thanks for your time and response.

    • ScottH

      If your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you with the condition in question, the answer would be no. Answer “I don’t know” when you just aren’t sure whether he or she has diagnosed you. The “I don’t know” option isn’t meant to be an option for whether or not you are diagnosed with that condition in the future.

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