How accurate is 23andMe?


My initial inclination in this post was to discuss a recent ordering snafu which resulted in many of my friends being quite peeved at 23andMe. But browsing through their new ‘ancestry composition’ feature I thought I had to discuss it first, because of some nerd-level intrigue. Though I agree with many of Dienekes concerns about this new feature, I have to admit that at least this method doesn’t give out positively misleading results. For example, I had complained earlier that ‘ancestry painting’ gave literally crazy results when they weren’t trivial. For example, it said I was ~60 percent European, which makes some coherent sense in their non-optimal reference population set, but then stated that my daughter was >90 percent European. Since 23andMe did confirm she was 50% identical by descent with me these results didn’t make sense; some readers suggested that there was a strong bias in their algorithms to assign ambiguous genomic segments to ‘European’ heritage (this was a problem for East Africans too).

View the original article here: Is Daniel MacArthur ‘desi’?

  • Lloyd Barnhill

    Curious…… I had the 23andme test as well as i was curious about the total make up of native American in my ancestry, seeing very strong native American features in my immediate family as well as a family history on the paternal side that indicates a large majority of either cherokee or Apache (stories are confusing). Imagine my surprise at a result that indicates 0.0% native American! given our family history and clear physical features, I cannot help but wonder of the accuracy of these tests.

    • sunshine

      Same. I have Ojibwe heritage (my dad was raised on the reservation) and the results came back 0.0% Native American.

      • Lloyd Barnhill

        Just fraudulent the way this is advertised. Clearly they don’t have enough data yet for the type of comparisons they are claiming (and charging $99 for)

      • ksyushenka

        I don’t think mine was accurate either. My mother has jet black hair, dark skin, she’s AK native but she gets mistaken for being Pinoy all the time. I came back with a huge section listed as ‘unknown’, It’s probably a good service for those of mostly European descent but it was kind of a letdown for me. My father was adopted so I still know very little.

      • IrishAllAlong

        Disagree with some of the replies on this thread… Your genetic results and your physical features may not correlate the way you may expect it to. I think most of us expect our oral history to closely match the 23andme results and for our children’s results to be exactly half of what both parents pass on to them. That isn’t how biology works (all the time). Two of my cousins (they are sisters) took the 23andme test because their physical features are vastly different than one another. One has green eyes and pale skin and the other has brown eyes and olive skin despite having the same parents. I took the test and learned that I’m 40% Irish. Visually and culturally, I identify with the Black community but confirmed my “Irish blood” when I sent my raw data to another genetics lab. More amazing, only 11.2% was attributed to Sub-Saharan Africa. The results were surprising however as a scientist, I know that the “outside” of us doesn’t always match the “inside” of us. I think 23andme is solid.

        • Mark Newman

          yes, but oral history is history

          • Akmal Mohd

            Says who?I’m sure you’ve played the game where you whisper something to one kid,then the that kid whisper to the other kid,then the other kid whisper to some other kid and at the end you’ll get a totally different message than one you originally conveyed

        • HonorWhenNoOnesLooking

          Define the black community. You can say you’re an African European American and still be part of the black community

        • MM

          Scientific method doesn’t include the practice of ignoring methods and assuming results are 100% accurate. People that call themselves “scientists” might assume as much, but the two are unrelated.

    • Cheshire_Waltz

      Okay I was interested in seeing if there was any Asian or Native American in me and it came back as very little. When looking at some of my grandparents it makes me wonder how accurate it is, and looking at some of the comments online makes me wonder even more.

    • Lea Chaney Hunter

      same thing happened to me. My grandfather was half Creek Indian. My grandmother was Cherokee and Sioux Indian and yet I got 0 % native american results in my 23andme profile it has to be inaccurate

      • musings2

        I do think it has to do with comparisons that they make with an existing database. I was not too surprised to discover East Asian ancestry (a very small amount corresponding to one ancestor about five generations back), but they cannot pinpoint it because I don’t think they have tested enough people. If they test Native Americans in the present society, they are rarely going to find someone who is “pure” either. Perhaps someone in a remote jungle in Brazil might be, maybe. So it’s just easier to say “East Asian”, although I am pretty sure I am descended from Algonquin people who have probably been intertwined with my colonial era family from the start. It’s a pretty long chunk of heredity along one chromosome, but there was probably a lot more in my paternal grandfather’s line and my father even looked like a portrait of a Shinnecock tribal member – straight hair, smooth hairless arms and legs, distinctive facial features. Yet my dad would only have been less than a percent as well – about .6%. Sometimes phenotypes come on stronger than genotypes. Most of us would agree that Jackie Kennedy looked very French, but her genealogy puts her at 1/8, as an example.

        • cameragirl

          your probably right I am coming up east Asian and my family is positive we have native south american in us .

          • SL Abrin

            Recent archaeological finding suggest that Chinese sailors explored and possibly settled along the western shores of South America. Their presence vanished as Chinese exploration petered out due to internal politics.

    • Mark Newman

      My grandfather was born on the rez. My results said I had 0.5% Native American ancestry. I know this is wrong. Like you said? Based on what I absolutely know (and not hearsay) about my family history? This result cannot be correct. My mother is half Shawnee and my father is one fourth Cherokee. Something is wrong with their testing.

    • HonorWhenNoOnesLooking

      please, everyone thinks they’re native american. Most Americans aren’t because
      1: not that many native americans were left alive due to the settlers bringing disease
      2: not many people had contact with native americans in the first place. Only certain groups such as lousiana creoles.

      • Nan MacDonald

        are you insane ????? The Pacific Northwest has large happy and healthy Native American populations !!! These people all are direct descendants of original indigenous Northwest Native American people !!!!

  • Lloyd Barnhill

    Simply fraudulent what they are charging people $99 bucks for at

  • Lloyd Barnhill

    Just heard on the news that the FDA has ordered 23andMe to cease selling or marketing this service altogether. Results regarding health risks are wildly inaccurate

    • Lloyd, the FDA did not find that the results regarding health are “wildly inaccurate”. They found that the results could be misinterpreted–but that’s true for many screening tests. The GLP will be addressing the nuances of the FDA’s decision in two articles over the next two days.

  • KR

    I’ve heard that this is the problem with genetic testing in general, not just with 23andme. I’m guessing this is because they have more data from certain countries and ethnicities than others.

  • bob walker

    Hahaha im More native merican than you guys a Entire 0,1! thats what 23andme gave me But..they also said i was 1.1% african

  • Christian Figueroa

    I’m pretty sure the way genes work is that we get them passed down, but not every gene to every child. you can have two siblings with very different genetic makeup. It all depends on which gene they get from each parent. Each egg and each sperm is different.

  • cameragirl

    I am actually raking a swab test for dna at an independent lab . Reason was because first we know our south amerincan Amerindian relatives but it is coming back I am native american and not showing any amerinean its classifying all the same . And in mine all I am giving is continents …no countries except for china and korea( and korea is a small percentage ) listed

  • Wade Steele

    I have documented Italian ancestry from the 1700’s that didn’t appear in my ancestry results. I have no Iberian ancestry yet it came up at about 3.5%. I am curious whether the two were mismatched.

    • Lori Smith

      I came back 9% Iberian Peninsula (and on Gedmatch it proved it was true), yet I have no ancestors who hail from Spain or Portugal in the past 400 years….BUT, I have ancestors from France, Switzerland, and Germany-all places that those from Spain could have traveled to and settled. Europe is like America- people move around and the populations shifts.

  • Kamilla Nguyen

    I have some issues troubleshooting my results from 23andme. I have been bothered by ancestry composition the most. I tested in the beginning of 2014 and it said that I was 50.1% Chinese, 2.7% Broadly East Asian, 46.3% Southeast Asian, and 0.5% Unassigned. I found that to be surprising because I thought I was 100% Vietnamese or at least mostly Vietnamese. I was very much used to the older tools on the website, like the DNA Melody, Countries of Ancestry, Country Map thing, etc. The countries of ancestry for me stated China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Korea. I was surprised about the Korea part because that didn’t show up in my ancestry composition. For the Country Map thing, the only countries that showed up were Vietnam and Japan. No China, no Hong Kong, no Korea. My paternal grandmother has told me before that she’s half Japanese and that her mother was 100% Japanese. There’s no documented Chinese person in any side of my family. Could it be that 23andme calculated my ethnicity predictions incorrectly? It seems like the case for many other users too. Am I really Chinese? Where’s the Japanese in my ancestry composition and countries of ancestry if it was the only other country besides Vietnam that showed up in the country map? Where’s the Korean if it didn’t show up in my ancestry composition and in my country map? Am I just freaking out about nothing and perhaps just interpreting my results incorrectly? Please help me. Thank you.
    P.S. I also wanted to ask about my maternal haplogroup. My maternal haplogroup is D4b1a. I just know that it derives from Asia but I don’t exactly know what country(s). What country(s) does that haplogroup derive from?

    • Akmal Mohd

      Vietnamese people are a part of Indochina group which means their very high chance that ancestors originated from china.Your result match up with you claims.46.3% southeast asian also has got to to do the fact that vietnamese people are believe to have moved from the malay penisula region.So most vietnamese ancestors are chinese and south east asian.

      You wont find a DNA that will state you as Vietnamese since the people there are also mixed ancestry.Same goes with Mexican.Most Mexicans will be classified as majority European ancestors with slight percentage from wither east asia,african or native americans

  • LT

    I hear it…. my father is more than 3/4 Cherokee. We believe the other quarter has some Chicksaw and the rest is unclear whether its British, Scotish, etc. Which is why we did the test. We Have not only pictures but family documents, Dawes Rolls numbers, Mounted Cherokee history, etc so that part was never in question….yet this test says he is all Easter European with no Native American. I wondered if they crossed his results with someone else until I started seeing the numbers of complaints.

    • Lori Smith

      I’ve read that over half of Cherokees have the RB1 Haplo group from Europe. It makes sense when you consider that it is highly likely that people from Europe found their way to America in our recent past (before Columbus). The proof is in many arrow heads that are identical to those found in France, similar buildings (Iriquois long houses are similar to those found in Europe and Asia), and the fact that Natives on the Eastern part of America look a lot different from Natives on the Western shores (California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon). Also, the samples that both 23andme and Ancestry has for Native ancestry is only around 130 individuals, mostly in the southwest , Mexico and South America.

    • Heather Jones Aduddell

      I am facing the same results- which make me wonder. We have Daws Cherokee Roll Number as was as a Baker Roll number and my heritage said 100% Northern European. I was wondering if they crossed my results as well.

  • Megan Deterling

    I’m having the same curiosity about the Native American in my family. My grandmother was born on an a Cherokee reservation in OK and my results came back as 100% European….