As the newest competitor in the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, Living DNA claims to provide the most advanced DNA testing service currently available. Their autosomal test is similar to the 23andMe test in that it uses some information from the 23rd sex-linked pair to give you a better understanding of your paternal and maternal lineage.
Their 3-in-1 DNA test therefore provides information on your ethnicity and ancestry, your motherline, and your fatherline to give you a clear cut representation of your family history as far back as a generalized haplogroup.
Of course, there is no such thing as the perfect DNA test, and the Living DNA service falls short on some fronts. For starters, there is no publicized database size for their platform. That means there’s no way to tell how many thousands or millions of DNA profiles are available on their system.
That can be a problem because of two reasons. The first is because these companies determine your ancestry by comparing your DNA with others in their system. The second is that a smaller database also means less opportunity to find DNA family matches.
Nonetheless, there are some who might meet satisfaction when using the Living DNA test. Being that it is quite popular among individuals from the British Isles, people with British roots can find much more relevant information after taking the test.
The Company Behind Living DNA
The Living DNA direct-to-consumer testing service was founded in 2016 as a subsidiary of the DNA Worldwide Group (DNAWG). The parent company DNAWG was started by a husband-and-wife tandem who saw it necessary to dissolve the concept of division by race and ethnicity by proving that humans are all genetically linked.
The DNA Worldwide Group has been operating since 2004, and aims to enrich the presently available knowledge on DNA and genetics. Education is another facet of their mission, bringing their knowledge to schools and other organizations to teach the intricacies of DNA testing and genealogical research.
Much like all of the other large DNA testing services on the market, Living DNA conducts their own research in genealogy using DNA samples from their buyers that provide consent. Presently, they’re conducting the One Family One World Project which is a 5-year long study intended to improve the accuracy and depth of the tests’ results they provide.
The Living DNA Testing Kit
Living DNA presently only offers one type of DNA testing kit that’s similar to the 23andMe test. Claiming to be a 3-in-1 test, their autosomal testing kit takes information from all 22 autosomes as well as some information from the 23rd sex-linked pair.
The company claims that their test can provide you in-depth knowledge of your ancestry and ethnicity, as well as your motherline and fatherline. Their test promises to shed light on your family history as far back as 80,000 years, bringing you back to your haplogroup.
It’s worth mentioning though that there are some limitations to the test. For starters, the fatherline can only be traced if the user is a male since women don’t have a Y chromosome to be analyzed.
Secondly, while the company does promise to detect your haplogroup, the results will only be a generalized estimate. Autosomal tests can’t produce accurate haplogroup results because they use a combination of your lineages’ DNA to find your haplogroup.
Because individuals in your paternal line and your maternal line may have come from different haplogroups all together, then using your combined DNA will broaden the haplogroup estimate. That’s why Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are better for such refined results, since they’re more specific to a single line.
Ethnic results might also be limited since the test can only go back as far as 15 generations. In some cases, the results might stop sooner than the estimated 15. That said, it might be unreliable when detecting ethnic roots from earlier in your lineage.
What’s In the Kit?
The company offers two different kits and although they offer the same results, the more expensive choice tosses in a customized Results Book. Designed like a coffee table book, the Personalized Results Book tells the story of your DNA based on the historical records used by the company.
Each kit contains a cheek swab, a sample container, instructions for sample collection, and a prepaid return envelope. Once the lab receives your sample, you can expect them to take up to 10-12 weeks to return your results.
Keep in mind that other labs take far less time with services like Ancestry DNA taking a maximum of 8 weeks to send back the analysis of your sample. In comparison to all the other service providers on the market, Living DNA comes out with the longest wait period of nearly 3 months.
How Much Does It Cost?
The company offers two different kits, but the test itself remains the same despite which one you choose. The more affordable kit at $99 USD comes with the DNA kit itself and digital and printable results.
The second kit at $168 USD comes with the same inclusions with an additional Personalized Ancestry Book. The book itself is a $69 USD value. Keep in mind that shipping fees are excluded from the prices.
Choosing which kit is right for you ultimately depends on your preference. Both kits will produce the same results, with the more expensive choice simply giving you a little extra item for posterity.
If you decide at a later date that you do end up wanting the Personalized Ancestry Book, then you can purchase it after you take the test. The results from your DNA test uploaded in the system will be taken and used to produce the book, so there won’t be a need to repurchase the kit.
That said, it might be wiser to discover the results first to see if you want to have them printed out as a book. You might have to spend again on shipping however if you purchase the book at a later date.
Tools and Resources from Living DNA
Not be outdone by the competition, Living DNA has also developed a few tools to enrich the use of their platform. These resources are intended to help you improve the relevance and meaning of your results, putting them to practical use for a deeper understanding of the findings you’re provided.
Compared to other platforms, the Living DNA system has fewer tools in its line-up. Nonetheless, they can be helpful. Some of the most relevant include:
- DNA Matching – As with any other platform, Living DNA gives users the option to discover potential family members in their system through their DNA Matching tool. Initially, users will not be subscribed to the feature and must opt-in to access the resource.
This default is put in place to make sure that your information remains protected, kept private and personal unless you choose to share it with others on the platform.
When you opt-in to the feature, your information will start to show on other users’ dashboard if you strike a match. Similarly, you’ll also start to see matches on your own dashboard. You’ll have the option to contact these matches to collect information you might need to build your family tree.
Keep in mind that unlike other platforms that provide instant results after you opt-in, Living DNA requires a waiting period of 3 weeks before they can provide you any matches.
Also, unlike other platforms that will provide you at least two to three matches right off the bat, there are some individuals who might not be able to find any matches on the Living DNA platform at all.
This could indicate that their database is too small to be able to produce a significant number of matches, especially if you’re from a region where Living DNA isn’t the testing kit of choice.
- Raw Data Upload – The raw data upload feature lets you upload your information from other DNA testing services. Once you upload, you’ll be able to access the Family Matching feature free of charge.
This can be especially helpful if you’re using DNA testing services to find missing or unknown relatives. However it’s worth pointing out that the raw data upload feature will not provide a breakdown of your ethnicity or ancestry.
Presently, Living DNA is working to improve their system so you can get better interpretation of raw DNA data later on. While the feature hasn’t been launched yet, Living DNA will be able to provide ethnicity and ancestry interpretation to raw data uploaders for a minimal fee via their portal.
Compared to most of the other choices available, Living DNA can be described as immature. The system tries to provide you relevant, intuitive results and interpretations, but the limitation of their population and tools can make that a challenge.
While the platform might be helpful for certain individuals from specific backgrounds, it might be better to wait for the provider to incorporate more tools and resources before diving in to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
Living DNA – Is It Accurate?
Is Living DNA a reliable source of accurate information? Or will they simply mislead and confuse you with false results? Anyone taking a DNA testing kit for at-home use should know to manage their expectations.
If you assume that you can take your results at face value and be done with it, then maybe you need to reconsider your idea of DNA testing kits. The fact is that none of these service providers can guarantee that their results are completely accurate.
What Living DNA – as well as the other providers available – promise is the groundwork for your genealogical research. Their results are rough and raw at best, requiring you to polish and refine them to arrive at more accurate results.
And because new knowledge is constantly being added to the practice of genealogy and genetics, your results may change over time. That said, you will never truly arrive at a completely accurate representation of your family past. What you can anticipate is to uncover very close estimates of your ethnicity, your ancestry, and your history.
All of that said, Living DNA can be accurate if you understand the limits of that word within the confines of at-home DNA testing. While the results they provide aren’t an exact representation of your history, they do provide sufficient information to help you get started on your own journey to personal discovery.
Living DNA is constantly performing research to improve their services and enrich the results you get out of your test. Their sample populations are often composed of the individuals in their database who opt to provide consent.
Keep in mind that Living DNA will not use any of your information for research unless you give them the go signal to do so. Even if your information is contained in their system, the company guarantees that your DNA profile and all of the information related to it will remain your property.
Oddly however, the company also indicates that when you take the test, you automatically consent to having your information sent to their partner company, Find My Past. If at any time you decide that you no longer want to be a part of the system, you can opt to delete your information completely.
On the other hand, if you opted in to research and decide at a later date that you no longer want to participate, you can pull out your information at any given time.
The Family Matching feature is another area where the company practices carefully privacy measures. Not everyone wants other people to see their DNA information, that’s why the tool is set to private by default.
It’s only when you opt-in to the feature that your information will start to show on others’ dashboards. When you match with someone, they will get to see your information and gain the option to contact you within the platform.
Messages exchanged through the platform are not private and may be accessed by the company if they deem it necessary. If at any time you decide that you no longer want to use the Family Matching feature, you can opt-out through your portal.
The Benefits of Living DNA
Why should you choose Living DNA? Although it might be smaller and younger than most of its competitors, it does have some strengths that can make it ideal for the right type of user. There are several benefits to using Living DNA, including:
- User-friendly – The first thing we truly appreciate about the Living DNA interface is that it was designed for ease of use. The minimalist design gives you a list of options along the left-hand side, each with a drop down list of the features available.
Navigating through the portal is seamless, straightforward, and intuitive. Information is sorted and presented neatly, letting you interpret your charts and results with relative ease.
The Family Networks feature can also be impressively easy to use. Users have the option to choose between list view and tree view to get a better perspective of matches. The tree is also completely customizable from the screen using a convenient drag tool to let you move things around.
- Detailed geographic reporting – History and ancestry tie in closely because a lot of the historical events that took place way back when were largely responsible for the changes that shaped human society.
For instance, natural disasters, colonization, and famines are all considered historical events. But they also preempted the migration of early human communities, which contributes to the changes in our ethnicity.
Living DNA takes the importance of history into account, and puts it to practical use with detailed geographic reporting. Once your ethnicity chart is developed, you can click on specific items in your ethnic mix to learn more about its history.
By learning more about the places that make you you, you can potentially piece together the reasons that brought ancestors together to bring your family where it is today.
- Raw data acceptance – Not all DNA testing platforms will let you upload your raw data, but Living DNA does. Their platform accepts raw DNA data from other testing sites, giving you free access to their Family Matching tool.
If you were looking for long lost family members or unknown relatives, this can be especially helpful since you can get access to the whole database without having to pay an extra fee.
In the future, Living DNA also hopes to incorporate a feature that lets you receive ethnicity and ancestry interpretation for raw DNA uploads at a minimal added fee. So that’s definitely something to look forward to.
Areas for Improvement
Living DNA is presently the youngest direct-to-consumer DNA testing service on the market. That said, they have yet to fully polish their system to get rid of any kinks that might dampen the user experience.
Sure, there’s a lot to love about Living DNA. But there are also some areas that might require improvement for a more enriching user experience, and these include:
- Insufficient population size – One of the biggest issues we have with the Living DNA platform is that it has a very small population size. Of course, it doesn’t actually disclose how many DNA profiles are currently available in their system.
Currently, no one can verify for certain how many users are active on the Living DNA platform, but we can make assumptions. For instance, some users will find a “Keep Fishing!” notice when accessing their Family Matching feature.
This means that the system has not found any DNA matches for that specific user. If the service had even just a million users on its platform, then it would seem impossible to receive zero matches.
With that, we can assume that Living DNA might have a database of just a few hundred thousand. If you consider the fact that some users might also opt to keep their information private, then that further shaves down the number of available users to match with.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the population on the platform is also what the service might use to calculate ethnicity and ancestry. The more DNA profiles they have, the better they can dial in on specific regional mixes.
- UK-specific – Of the 80 regions used by the system, 21 are UK-specific. That means people with strong roots in these areas might get the most accurate results out of their tests. Unfortunately, that means that there are only around 59 regions to represent the rest of the globe.
That said, most of the geographical estimates produced by the system to calculate your ethnic mix might be too broad to be relevant. This aspect of the Living DNA platform also makes it far less attractive to international users who don’t come from the UK.
So because individuals who calculate that the platform will not render them significant results because of their minimal British roots, Living DNA tends to deter potential users of various other backgrounds.
In effect, it becomes a vicious cycle. More British users on-board and make the platform less and less relevant for others around the globe.
There is no way to bypass the consent, so taking the test essentially means agreeing to having your information shared. Similarly, the platform also indicates that messages exchanged through their system are not kept private.
That means that if the need for it arises, then personnel from the company can read your messages exchanged with other users on the platform.
The Bottom Line
Living DNA tries hard to compete with some of the bigger direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits on the market. In some ways, it might prove to be a match especially if you have strong roots in the British Isles.
Its streamlined interface and simple tools are also particularly impressive. Navigating the portal can feel seamless and automatic, letting you manage your information and results without the guesswork.
Unfortunately, there are downsides. Issues with privacy, a small population size, and the lack of resources for individuals outside the British Isles might make the service irrelevant for certain users.
Perhaps waiting it out to see how Living DNA will attempt to improve their system before making a purchase can give greater value to your money. Otherwise, you can try out a different DNA testing service to suit your needs.
- How Reliable Are Home DNA Ancestry Tests? Investigation Uses Triplets to Find Out. Retrieved from https://www.insideedition.com/investigative/21784-how-reliable-are-home-dna-ancestry-tests-investigation-uses-triplets-to-find-out on September 11, 2019
- Ethnicity, Culture, and “The Past.” Retrieved from https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mqr;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0036.411;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mqrg on September 11, 2019