Choosing the right DNA test for your needs

Before buying a DNA test kit it is important to identify what specific information you want to find out.

Photo: National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
Photo: National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

Many of us have seen the advertisements that show how happy people are in finding out their DNA results. The popular DNA tests kits now available are geared toward mapping family history and genealogy. But what exactly are these home DNA test kits able to reveal besides family heritage? Are they capable of showing us our risk of disease, our longevity and other family traits?

There may be many reasons individuals want to identify their DNA profile. When seeking out DNA testing, the first step is to determine what you want your DNA to reveal. Are you simply looking to verify or learn more about your ancestry and ethnicity? Are you in search of connecting with relatives, or are you interested in identifying very specific genetic disorders or perhaps a link to a genetically inherited disease? These are important questions to ask so that you can determine which type of DNA test is best for you.

Not all DNA tests are the same. Not all testing kits are able to reveal the same information. There are many factors to think about when seeking your DNA profile such as:

  • Pinpoint the specific (DNA) information you are most interested in knowing.
  • Discuss your DNA questions with your healthcare provider he/she may be able to guide you in your kit considerations, and those surrounding chronic disease.
  • Consider the financial cost.
  • Be mindful of the significance and impact the results will have on you and others.

Common types of DNA tests include:

Ancestry tests – Most ancestry tests look at your 23 sets of chromosomes and offer a basic report of origin and ethnicity. Some of these sites may be able to reveal health traits and traits specific to regions and origins.

Paternity tests –Paternity tests are commonly used to determine paternity and other family relationships. We inherit our DNA from our parents. Paternity results are based on a ‘probability of paternity’, that probability is achieved when DNA marker matches reveal the child’s DNA being matched with father and/or mother’s DNA.

Genomic tests –Used to diagnose rare genetic disorders. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), “Genetic tests may be used to identify increased risks of health problems, to choose treatments, or to assess responses to treatments.” (To learn more about disease-specific testing visit

Although it is not always available to everyone, knowing our family history of chronic disease is important. This is why your healthcare provider asks about your family health history. Many chronic diseases have genetic components, which raise disease risk in certain people or populations.

Individuals can learn more about specific genetic tests by visiting National Human Genome Research Institute or by talking with their doctor. To learn more about chronic disease and prevention visit Michigan State University Extension.

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