Ultimate Guide to DNA Test Results

Updated January 31, 2019

This article was scientifically reviewed by YourDNA

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A list of references is also included at the bottom of this article.

Here at YourDNA, we know how important your test results are, and that's why we have gathered the most important facts you need to know, so you can spend less time on research and more time determining which test on the market is right for you.

What's in this Guide?

Disclaimer: Before You Read

It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.

Genetics is a quickly changing topic.

Quick Overview

If you've taken or have considered taking an at-home DNA test, you're probably wondering what the results mean.

They vary, of course, depending on the type of test that you purchase and your unique genetic makeup. Some tests are strictly for genealogy purposes while others go into far more detail about your overall health and wellness.

Others confirm paternity and you can even find DNA tests for your pets to compare their makeup with what you already know. The critical key to these tests is knowing how to evaluate your results, so you can make educated decisions whether the results are positive or negative.

Your DNA Test Results Explained

One important thing worth noting is that all humans share 99.9 percent of the same DNA.

The only part that makes us unique is the remaining 0.1 percent, and that minuscule amount can provide a lot of insight into your genetic makeup. It's responsible for determining your traits, it stores all of your genealogy and gives great insight into your health including whether you carry specific markers or genes that indicate whether you're at higher risk for developing specific conditions or diseases in your lifetime.

Having access to this information can help you make educated decisions about your future, it can also help put your mind at ease depending on the results you receive.

Now that you've taken the DNA test, you need to know how to evaluate your results. The format varies depending on which company and which test you choose to take.

Some companies test more variants than others, but the majority of them provide your estimated ethnicity, though the number of regions does vary among brands. Each test comes with a detailed report, depending on the services you order.

You can opt for basic autosomal testing or get a full health reading. Some tests are strictly for paternity and if you want to know your pet's ancestry, you can get a DNA test done for your cat, dog, bird or horse.

Different Types of DNA Tests

There are different types of DNA tests that you can take, whether you get the at-home versions or undergo testing in a doctor's office.

Each type evaluates different factors depending on what the technician is looking for. Genealogy results, for example, will widely differ from longevity results because they evaluate different sections of the DNA.

Ancestry Test Results

If you decide to take an ancestry test, there are a few different routes you can go. You can get the basic autosomal test, which evaluates your DNA dating your ancestry back up to five generations.

This gives you several hundred or thousands of years of history, knowing where your ancestors lived at this point. If you're interested in your maternal family's history, mitochondrial, or simply mtDNA testing gives you far more insight into your mother's lineage, dating all the way back to the days of Adam and Eve.

Men looking to get more insight into their paternal history should consider the Y-DNA test, available from FamilyTreeDNA.

When it comes to your ancestry test results, you'll receive an ethnic estimate that gives you a broad view of where your ancestors lived in past generations. The amount of identified regions varies between companies such as MyHeritage DNA and 23andMe, so keep this in mind when choosing an ancestry test.

Your report will include the regions pinpointed in your DNA along with estimated percentages, so you can get a good idea of where your roots originate. The more regions available, the more precise your results will be.

While they won't be able to pinpoint exact towns, you can likely narrow it down to specific regions of a country. As more regions become available with these companies, you can fine-tune your results and expand your research.

In addition to the ethnicity estimate, you'll also have the option to review your potential matches. These compare the DNA among members in the database and let you know which ones you're potentially related to and your estimated relation.

Some people use these results to find long-lost brothers and sisters, while others use it as an educational tool to further develop their family tree. As of January 2019, AncestryDNA is purported to have the largest available database if you're looking for living relatives.

Paternity Test Results

The basic purpose of the paternity test 1 is to determine whether a man is the biological father of a child. However, this type of test is also beneficial in showing generational history between people who bear the same surname.

Since most people use it for determining paternity between a child and an alleged father, we'll discuss that in greater detail.

There are three potential results that you can get from a paternity test: excluded, not excluded and inconclusive. These are scientific terms based on the percent of matching DNA the two parties share.

Excluded means that the potential father does not share enough DNA (the match percentage will be 0) and is therefore excluded from being the father. Not excluded means that the match percentages range between 99 and 99.9 percent.

Any less than this and the result will either be inconclusive or excluded. Inconclusive means that the range of match is between 0.1 and 98.9 percent and a decision cannot be made either way.

There are a few reasons why a paternity test would be considered inconclusive. Either there is not enough of a sample for technicians to evaluate, or the sample is contaminated which is leading to inaccurate results.

In both of these cases, it may be necessary to collect another sample.

An inconclusive test can also be changed to excluded or not excluded with the addition of the mother's DNA. The technicians will compare the child's and the mother's samples against each other to eliminate matches that can stronger prove an excluded or not excluded result.

If this additional information is not enough to determine the paternity test as excluded or not excluded, another sample has to be collected and evaluated.

Pet Test Results

Currently, there are pet DNA tests available for multiple animals including canines, felines, horses and avians. As a pet owner, you can learn about the specific breed your pet is, as well as their existing traits and potential health concerns.

Some are important traits, while others are fun like the likelihood that your cat will become addicted to catnip.

The results of these tests can benefit you if you're considering using your pet as a show animal or for breeding. The results will identify the breed in percentages, determine if the animal is purebred and offer a wellness report that covers the potential risks for developing chronic or debilitating diseases.

Additionally, some even have the capability of evaluating the traits and predispositions that can help you, as the owner, develop a diet or wellness plan.

Longevity and Aging Test Results

Longevity and aging test results differ from other types of DNA tests because they focus on your telomere health, which requires a very specific test and a blood sample instead of a buccal swab. When you get the report, it tells you two main results:

  • The average length of your telomere (ATL)
  • Your TeloYears, which tells you how old your cells are

In addition, they can store your information so you can track the results over time if this is something you're interested in. According to some doctors, the only real way to get an accurate result from this type of testing is to repeat it multiple times over several years.

Finally, companies like TeloYears offer a blueprint that can help improve your overall lifespan, including lifestyle changes and explanations as to how factors in your everyday life can lead to a shorter lifespan.

One important note when it comes to this type of testing is that while longer telomere lengths can indicate a longer lifespan, they can also indicate the presence of cancer as the disease manipulates the telomeres so the cancer cells can continue to divide rapidly.

Without speaking with a doctor, however, there's no way to determine which conclusion is the correct one. This type of testing is still relatively new to the market and is not regulated by any governing bodies like other other health DNA tests offered online by 23andMe.

Finding Your DNA Test Results

Finding your DNA test results is relatively simple, regardless of which company you choose to send your sample to.

They all operate in a similar way, making access to your reports quick and efficient.

You'll receive your DNA test results at home, either in a printed report or as an email notification. When you receive the email notification, you can log into your account on the company's website and access all of your information, including your raw data.

Some tests may come with a printed reported mailed directly to your home.

Your test results may come with the option to share your results in order to find ancestry matches and allow matches to find you. If you have this option, you can feel free to turn it on or off, depending on your preferences.

What Do DNA Test Results Look Like?

The DNA test results you receive will depend on the type of tests you took.

Ancestry tests come with a percentage breakdown of your ethnicity, but you may even be able to view your chromosomal breakdown for all 23 sets of chromosomes you possess. If your parents also take the test, you can even see how much of the ethnic heritage you gained from each one.

Some companies offer a timeline that tells at what point in your heritage a specific ethnicity entered your DNA. You'll be able to see the year range along with how many generations ago that ethnicity became part of you.

Most also come with maps that outline the regions found in your DNA along with an explanation and history of the countries.

For paternity tests, you'll receive an analysis of the PCR-systems that were compared in addition to a breakdown of the analysis and the overall result of the test: excluded, not excluded or inconclusive. Between 21 and 30 DNA markers are typically tested for these results.

Pet DNA tests will come with different results, depending on the services you choose. With canines, for example, you'll receive a percentage breakdown of the breeds discovered in the DNA sample.

If you decide to go with deeper testing, you can even find out genetic health concerns and which, if any, diseases they have a predisposition to.

How Long Does it Take to Get Your Test Results?

Getting your test results can take a few weeks because the samples have to be sent back to the laboratory for evaluation.

Most have a timeline of between 4 and 8 weeks, though some can take slightly longer. If the labs happened to be backed up, you can expect an even longer wait.

You should be able to see the status of your kit by logging into your account on the company website. This will give you the best information on how long it will take to complete.

How to Understand DNA Test results

Each report comes with an overview and a detailed explanation of all the factors that are evaluated in your results.

Not only do you get to see the results, but a comprehensive explanation broken down into layman's terms helps eliminate the technical jargon that can be confusing.

If you find that you have questions about the report, a good place to start is with the company you purchased the test from. Look at the FAQ section to see if your question is posted, and if not, you can always email support.

If you're still stumped with your results, you can ask a professional, such as your physician if the tests involved health reports. You can also search out helpful videos on YouTube and find a wealth of information about deciphering the reports online.

DNA Test Results: Next Steps

After you get your DNA test results, there are a few steps you can take.

If you're looking to find relatives, you can use the results to reach out to those who have made their information public. Mostly, these tests make it easy for you to make decisions on your future, but you should never do so without consulting a professional.

For genealogy tests, you can compare results between companies by taking several and comparing the similarities and discrepancies. Be aware, however, that the number of regions differs between each brand, so some may be more specific, pinpointing countries or major cities, while others are limited to general regions.

If you've taken health DNA tests and the results leave you wanting more, you can consult with a doctor to get more information on what the test results indicate. If you received the news that you're a carrier for a specific variant, you might benefit from visiting and speaking with a genetic counselor.

Don't rush into life-altering decisions because of the results of an at-home test. Instead, seek out the professionals that can help you understand the readings the way they're intended.

Genetic Counselors: How They Can Help

It can be scary receiving the news that you are a carrier of a specific variant or gene mutation that could later develop into a serious condition.

It's for this reason that companies advise you not to make any rash decisions based on the test results. Just because you're a carrier, does not mean that you'll develop the disease, it simply means you're at a higher risk.

If you have specific questions about identified variants or gene mutations, make an appointment with a genetic counselor. These professionals are specially trained to understand the impact of the genetics on a person's life and can help you make educated decisions on how to move forward.

They can explain your results and the risks indicated, at a higher level than the DNA tests provide. A genetic counselor also has the knowledge of how these genes work and can give you a variety of scenarios that may play out in the future, and can help make decisions about your future children, if you're still of child-bearing age and wish to have children.

You can find genetic counselors around the globe, but it's always worth asking a trusted professional, friend or family member for a recommendation.

Which DNA Test Is the Most Accurate?

With more companies available to offer at-home testing, you might be wondering which one is the most accurate.

The truth is, they all offer a high degree of accuracy, but it depends on the type of information you're looking for. Some people even compare the tests side by side on YouTube with hopes of passing on more information to those considering purchasing one.

For example, comparing Ancestry DNA with MyHeritage DNA, you'll find that the regions each company offers are quite different. AncestryDNA currently covers 350+ regions while MyHeritage only covers 42.

When it comes to pinpointing where your ancestors originated from, Ancestry DNA will be more specific in its results. This doesn't mean that MyHeritage is wrong, it's just more vague in determining your heritage.

You'll also want to take a look at the database size if you're looking to find relatives. The larger the database, the more potential you have.

To evaluate which test is right for you, it's important to do a side-by-side comparison before you purchase one. Look at the features it offers, including the types of analyses included and how specific each one gets with pinpointing genealogy.

Can a Paternity DNA Test Be Wrong?

Absolutely, a paternity DNA test can be wrong 2 for a number of reasons, not the least of which is human error.

Sometimes samples are processed incorrectly, or perhaps they're mixed up in the laboratory and mislabeled. These are all potential reasons why a test could be wrong.

Another instance that could produce an incorrect result is an incomplete or contaminated DNA sample. So yes, there is the risk that the results you receive could be wrong.

If you're sure there's a mistake, or the results come back inconclusive, there's no harm in having another paternity DNA test done.

Will DNA Test Results Be the Same for Siblings?

If you're testing at the same time as your siblings, you might be interested to see how you stack up against each other.

While some of your DNA will likely be similar, unless you're a set of identical twins, your DNA will have distinguishable differences 3. While parents pass on 50 percent of their DNA to their children, it's not the same 50 percent each time as each sperm and egg cell carries different genetic code within.

It's not uncommon for siblings to inherit different ancestry or have more of one ethnic heritage than another sibling.

Can Your DNA Test Results Change?

While it might seem inconceivable, the fact is that your DNA results can change.

Over the years, as technology advances, the DNA test companies are able to further define regions and their boundaries. As this occurs, your ethnicity estimates will change to reflect these regional changes.

This is true for all companies, not just a single one, so you can reasonably expect that future tests, should you decide to have them done, will display slightly different results than the ones you take today.

Who "Owns" Your DNA Test Results?

It's only natural to worry about your DNA test results and how they will be used once you've handed the sample over to the company.

However, most of them have a statement that explicitly says that the test taker is the owner of all of the data. Additionally, despite your worries about your information being sold to third-parties, it can only happen with your consent and it's for research purposes only.

There's only one current exception, which involves Family Tree DNA, which has a poorly worded private policy that makes it unclear who retains the right to the data, which is something to keep in mind when choosing a company to analyze your sample.

The one thing that might be a consideration is that life and disability insurance companies 4 could use this data as a reason not to offer coverage. However, they would have to have access to the data, and without consent, it's not likely to happen.

What Does a Positive or Negative DNA Test Result Mean?

A positive DNA test result can mean different things for different tests 5.

It can be a welcome or unwelcome result depending on the circumstances. For example, a positive test result on a paternity test means the alleged father is proven to be the biological father.

Whereas, on a health DNA test, a positive result means that your DNA has shown to carry some potential risk factors for diseases.

On the same token, a negative DNA test result could mean that a person is not the father, or it could mean that there were no variants detected in a person's DNA. It's important to know how to accurately read the results so that you don't throw yourself into a panic without having a full understanding of what the results mean.

Whether your goal is to build your family tree or to see if you carry potential risk factors that have been passed down among generations, knowing how to read and understand your results is crucial to your success. Armed with this knowledge, you can use the information in a positive way and get the most out of your experience.

Referenced Sources

  1. Paternity Testing
    American Pregnancy Association
  2. Genetic Testing
    Dr. Barry Starr, Stanford University
  3. Direct-to-Consumer Tests
    United States Food and Drug Administration
  4. What is genetic discrimination?
    National Library of Medicine , U.S Department of Health and Human Services
  5. What do the results of the genetic tests mean?
    National Library of Medicine , U.S Department of Health and Human Services