What Can You Learn About Your Wellbeing and Ancestry?
UK genetic testing company Living DNA was launched as “a collaboration of over 100 world-leading scientists, academic researchers and genetic experts from across the globe.” But does a big collaboration always mean better results? I’m not so sure, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, a quick overview of the company’s at-home DNA test kits.
Although it originally offered only an ancestry DNA test, Living DNA recently introduced its “Wellbeing” diet and fitness test. Now, there are four Living DNA tests that you can choose from, which means that you can get wellness and ancestry insights on essentially any budget.
You can purchase either the standalone ancestry or wellbeing kit. There is also a combo package, which includes full insights from both of these individual tests. Alternatively, for about a third of the cost, you can get the “Starter Kit,” which includes limited ancestry and wellness reports.
One of the things I really appreciate about Living DNA is how the company is continually making new features and offerings available. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that the tests are right for everyone. To help you decide, I did the hard work of sending in a sample and writing about my personal experience with the ancestry and wellbeing combo test.
It’s as Easy as 1-2-3
Taking any of Living DNA’s tests couldn’t be easier:
You order a test kit, create an account online, swab the inside of your mouth (having not eaten, drunk, or chewed gum for at least 30 minutes), then mail in your sample. That’s it. After about six to eight weeks, you should receive an email telling you that your results are ready, which is a bit longer than it takes many competitor companies to tell you the same thing.
If you’ve already had your DNA tested by 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or MyHeritage, you can upload your raw DNA data to get a limited selection of Living DNA reports for free! That’s pretty cool. At the very least, you’ll be able to compare the different companies’ findings.
A Detailed Look at the Ancestry Test
DNA-based ancestry reports typically tell you what ethnicities and geographical regions lie in your family’s past, according to the autosomal DNA that has been inherited from both parents.
Some companies – including Living DNA – also analyze your Y-DNA (if you’re male) and your mitochondrial DNA (whatever sex you are) to tell you about your ancient paternal and maternal family lines, respectively.
Ancestry-based DNA testing companies also typically tell you if your DNA matches other members recorded in their customer databases, so that you can track down potential relatives.
Which of these things does Living DNA do, and how well? Let’s take a tour of the ancestry report, starting with the Recent Ancestry section.
By “recent ancestry,” Living DNA doesn’t just mean a few generations; this report includes familial information for the past 500 years! In addition to telling me that I am 32.4% Germanic and 13.4% Northeast European/Baltic, the results also indicated that 28% of my ancestors came from the Near East (especially Turkey):
This is strange since other DNA tests have told me that I’m about half European (fine), half Ashkenazi Jewish (not identified here), and 3% Asian (not indicated at all). I know that my father’s side of the family is pretty much 100% Ashkenazi Jewish. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence that I have some East Asian heritage, which has been corroborated by other DNA tests I’ve taken.
For these reasons, I doubt the precision of Living DNA’s ancestry assessments. However, it’s important to note that Living DNA analyzes far fewer geo-regions than some of its competitors. AncestryDNA and 23andMe’s ethnicity estimates include 1,000+ geo-regions, while Living DNA’s reports only have 150. This is likely why these results seemed less accurate than what I had received in other reports.
One thing I really appreciated about Living DNA’s reports was the storytelling and historical context. You can click on any of the listed ethnicities to learn more about those historic populations.
Maternal and Paternal Migrations
Analysis of my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) associates me with maternal haplogroup H (subclade H2a) which identifies ancestors who migrated around Europe, the Middle East, and Africa as shown here:
This agrees with analysis by 23andMe, so I conclude that both companies are probably correct.
Analysis of my Y-DNA associates me with paternal haplogroup J2 (subclade J-M92) which identifies ancestors who migrated around Iberia, the Middle East, and Africa like this:
Again, this analysis agrees with 23andMe.
I like the Living DNA’s visual representation which combines a textual historical narrative (on the left) with very clear pictorial population migration lines (on the right). 23andMe does something very similar with its presentations of maternal and paternal migration paths.
This section, which Living DNA calls “Family Networks,” shows which other Living DNA customers appear to be biologically related to you (and how). You can view more details for each potential relative or attempt to contact them, but only if you’ve opted in for this service via the single-click opt-in button on your dashboard.
My Story in Print
Optionally, you can order a printed book that includes your Living DNA ancestry report and puts its findings into context. Apart from 23andMe, which does this more cheaply, most companies don’t offer this at all.
My book looked like this:
It would be an understatement to say that I was disappointed. The structure of the book partially parallels the online ancestry report, but advises “for the full list of your regional percentages, visit the Living DNA portal.”
What this means in practice is that the recent ancestry portion of my report focused on the “Near East” ancestry that I think Living DNA got wrong for me. The sections on my maternal and paternal haplogroups were pretty much the same as what was shown online.
The remainder of the book is the same for every customer. It discusses the history and science of DNA sequencing, the history of human divergence out of Africa, the story of the discovery of DNA, and the history of Living DNA. Naturally, I’d prefer more personalized content.
- Tests autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-DNA. Many companies do not offer the latter two or charge separately for them.
- Includes migration routes and accompanying historical context.
- You can order a printed report, which you can’t do with most other companies.
Other Kits Available
- Living DNA offers a Starter Kit, which gives you a limited selection of the ancestry and wellbeing reports.
- You can also buy a Wellbeing Kit (discussed next) either separately or combined with the Ancestry test.
Similar Tests to Consider
- 23andMe: This company’s test is similar to Living DNA’s test, but it also includes a report on your Neanderthal ancestry.
- Family Tree DNA: Offers individual tests for autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA.
- HomeDNA/GPS Origins: Allows you to choose from a wide selection of ancestry tests, including specialized ones that go into greater about African or Asian ancestry.
Competitive Pricing, with Free Results from Raw DNA Data
- An entry-level Starter Kit that gives you a taste of the ancestry and wellbeing reports. It’s cheap but appears just to include pretty basic information.
- The Ancestry Kit is priced pretty much the same as the MyHeritage ancestry test and less than the cost of the ancestry tests from 23andMe or AncestryDNA. The printed version is more expensive than 23andMe’s similar offering.
- The Wellbeing Kit is cost-competitive with other companies. The companies that cost more tend to provide greater insight and features, such as meal and exercise plans.
- The combined Wellbeing and Ancestry Kit is of good value compared with other companies’ combined tests. This package includes all of the information from the full ancestry and wellbeing kits.
- A raw DNA data upload option gives you results for free. However, you only get your ethnic data broken down into eight world regions and the ability to match with potential relatives. Nutrition and fitness reports are both listed as “coming soon.”
When it comes to Wellbeing, I think the report is worth the price. As for Ancestry, I would personally prefer to spend more for greater accuracy.
If you decide to purchase one of Living DNA’s test kits, you can pay via PayPal or using your Visa/Mastercard/American Express credit card.
Somewhat Variable Support
If you have any questions about Living DNA’s tests, the Support Center page looks to have more detailed, scientific answers than many other DNA testing companies. If you can’t find answers to your questions, you can call the company, send an email, or submit a support request:
Filling out the form is a little time-consuming. You have to go through several CAPTCHA challenges, but I battled through a few times to submit some questions.
First, I asked about how this company’s DNA test reports compare with the similar tests from 23andMe, particularly in terms of Neanderthal heritage. The following response didn’t go into as much detail as I would have liked, but I suppose it was too much to ask for such a detailed comparison with a competitor company.
I asked an additional question about which countries Living DNA ships tests to, and I received a generic answer advising me to browse the country list on the website.
My final question related to my Wellbeing report, which I was still waiting to receive after several months. It turns out that the company had lost my DNA sample and my order for the Wellbeing test. In the end, I was mailed a new test kit so that I could start all over again.
In summary, I’ve had better support experiences with DNA testing companies that have answered my questions more thoroughly and which have not lost my orders or samples.
Wellbeing, Pretty Good. Ancestry, Fairly Flawed.
Living DNA offers some of the most affordable test kits on the market.
The Wellbeing report appeared to be pretty accurate and included an affordable summary of how your DNA might influence your diet and fitness regimes.
Unfortunately, the Ancestry report left me unsatisfied, thanks to its apparent inaccuracies regarding my heritage. It was disappointing, especially when you compare the report to what you would get with 23andMe, which – as well as being more accurate – also included a percentage Neanderthal assessment. However, if you’ve already received a DNA test from AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, or 23andMe, there’s no harm in comparing your results for free.
In summary, while I probably wouldn’t order the ancestry test again, I would invest in the Wellness report.
How accurate is Living DNA?
The accuracy of Living DNA’s ancestry test results depends on who is taking the test. The company is based in the U.K., and a large percentage of its customers live in the U.K. and Europe. Since DNA from those regions is very well represented in its customer base, Living DNA is able to estimate European ancestry with a high level of accuracy.
However, some populations are not well represented, and consequently are less likely to be identified accurately. For instance, half of our reviewer’s ancestors are Ashkenazi (i.e. European) Jews, and Living DNA completely missed this fact in its ethnicity estimate – while claiming that he had a significant amount of Turkish ancestry, when in fact he has none.
For its Wellbeing test, Living DNA looks at certain genetic markers known to be associated with traits such as propensity for weight gain, likelihood of having a particular vitamin deficiency, or likelihood of being lactose intolerant. While these findings may help you to better understand your body and more effectively achieve your wellness goals, they should be taken with a grain of salt. Having a marker for a particular trait doesn’t mean you definitely have that trait, and lacking a marker for it doesn’t mean you definitely don’t have it.
Can you upload raw DNA data to Living DNA?
Yes, Living DNA allows you to upload your raw data from AncestryDNA, 23AndMe, MyHeritage, and FamilyTree DNA. Once you’ve done so, you can access their family matching service for free, but will have to pay a small fee to receive certain other reports based on your data.
How do you interpret Living DNA data?
Living DNA’s ancestry report includes an estimate of which ethnicities lie in your family’s background, as well as which maternal and paternal haplogroups you’re most likely descended from. The company’s wellbeing report analyzes your genetic predispositions for endurance, exercise, diet, nutrient absorption, and other genetic traits.
How long does it take to receive results from a Living DNA test?
Once Living DNA has received your genetic sample, your results should be ready within 6-8 weeks. Our reviewer’s Wellbeing report took more than 11 weeks! By contrast, 23andMe promises results within 2-4 weeks, and our reviewer received his in a little more than one week.
Who should consider taking a Living DNA test?
If you’re looking for a thorough but affordable ancestry test, Living DNA may be an excellent choice. Unlike most other vendors, Living DNA’s ancestry test not only includes an ethnicity estimate but also traces your maternal and paternal haplogroups back hundreds of thousands of years. With that said, our reviewer’s ethnicity estimate from Living DNA was way off base, so it may not produce satisfying results for everyone. You might be better off with other top ancestry DNA tests, including MyHeritage and AncestryDNA.
Living DNA’s wellbeing test gives you a reasonably thorough analysis of how your DNA may affect your endurance, exercise, diet, nutrient absorption, and other genetic traits. Our reviewer found his wellbeing results far more accurate than his ancestry report. 23andMe’s health report covers many of these same wellness traits, but also explores your risk of getting certain diseases or passing others on to your children.