DNA Marketplace Reviews for Helix

Ranked 4th out of 4 in
DNA Marketplaces >
If you use the Web App
Web
App
From $0.00
If you buy the Kit
Kit
From $80.00

At a Glance

Editor's Rating:
4 out of 5 stars
Customer Service:
4 out of 5 stars
Clarity of Results:
4 out of 5 stars
References Cited:
4 out of 5 stars
Value for Money:
4 out of 5 stars

Summary

Overall, I enjoyed Helix’s service. There was an impressive range of apps and web apps to choose from, with plenty of information provided about each. Not being able to filter the products by anything other than category was a bit frustrating, but otherwise I found the marketplace easy to navigate and order from.

Once I had ordered, however, I found the communication a bit confusing, and Helix sometimes felt like an unnecessary middle man rather than a convenient tool for my genetic data. The fact that this raw data wasn’t accessible unless I paid a substantial fee was also disappointing. It’s early days for the company though and I look forward to seeing them continue to develop this innovative service.

Full Review

Helix DNA, also known as ‘the DNA app store’, is a California-based company that offers customers access to a range of apps and web apps, using a single saliva sample. The marketplace was launched in July 2017 with an impressive list of partners, including Mayo Clinic, Duke University, and Illumina, an industry leader in DNA sequencing equipment. Back in August 2016, before the platform had launched, we wrote an article asking, Is Helix the DNA testing company of the future?. Now the service has been up and running for a few months, we decided to try it out to see whether it would live up to expectations.

Product Expectations

Helix’s website introduced me to the concept of the DNA marketplace straight away, explaining that “One saliva sample unlocks a lifetime of insights”. The homepage also included a short ‘How it works’ section. This went over the three steps of the testing process: I’d order the kit, have my DNA sequenced and then explore my results. The third step was accompanied by an assurance that only relevant parts of my DNA data would be shared with the partner of my choice. The way the marketplace worked hadn’t been properly explained at this point, so I was a bit confused by what this meant. However, when I clicked through to the full ‘How it works’ page, a longer explanation clarified that this one saliva sample would allow me to use the whole marketplace (“the Helix store”) of apps and web apps, provided by various partner companies.

The store itself allowed me to browse the various apps and web apps by category. There were 34 services in total, sorted into six categories, ‘Ancestry’, ‘Entertainment’, ‘Family’, ‘Fitness’, ‘Health’ and ‘Nutrition’. Scrolling down the page, I noticed that the name of the service and the partner provider was listed for each app or web app, but no prices were shown. I also found it a bit frustrating that there was no way to search for specific services or filter by anything other than category.

I clicked to see more about ‘MyTraits Sport’, an app offered by a company called Intelliseq. Five screenshots were shown at the top of the page, followed by a product description. This firstly suggested who the app might be a “Great gift for…”, then explained what to expect and finally summed up the value of the results. When looking through what else was on offer in the store, I noticed these three criteria were used for all the services, making them easy to compare.

The rest of the product description provided information about Intelliseq and the science behind the analysis. I was a bit confused to see that a section labelled ‘Impact’ explained that genetics plays a “very small role” in fitness and athletic potential, when compared to environmental factors. This seemed to slightly contradict the description, which had emphasized the benefits of genetically-personalized training, but I was impressed with their honesty.

Ordering Experience

The top of the product description page showed the price of the app and of the Helix DNA kit. Beneath this, it explained that I’d have to purchase the kit to provide a one-time saliva sample. This would be analyzed to produce a copy of my genetic data, which would be used to provide me with my MyTraits Sports results. If I purchased further apps or web apps later on, this genetic data could then be passed on to secondary partners for analysis, meaning I wouldn’t have to provide any further samples.

The kit was automatically included in the order, but I could remove it by clicking to indicate that I had already submitted a sample to Helix in a previous order. I thought this was a good way to ensure I didn’t accidentally purchase the service without having the data to use with it. However, it was a shame that I couldn’t use the data I’d already received from taking tests with other companies, as this is something that other marketplaces allow.

I clicked to order and was prompted to enter my name, email, and shipping details. The cheapest shipping option (USPS First Class) was $8.92, which seemed quite high, especially considering that delivery could take up to nine days. There was also the option to upgrade to FedEx 2-Day ($13.67) or Overnight ($20.45), but I decided I would wait a bit longer to save some money.

Before ordering, I looked through the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. There was helpfully a ‘Policy Highlights’ page, which summed up the key points. This was straightforwardly worded and explained the policies well. I learnt that Helix would sequence my DNA, though the data that resulted wouldn’t cover every letter in my genome, instead including around 22,000 genes in total. If I chose to purchase further services from the marketplace, only the parts required to carry out that analysis would be passed on to the relevant partner company. This was reassuring, and I was also pleased to read that they wouldn’t advertise any products to me based on information taken from my genetic data. Although my sample might be retained for “quality control and optimization” purposes, I could request for it to be destroyed.

This document revealed that I could get a copy of my data but, to do so, I’d have to cover the cost of the sequencing. The reason given for this was that Helix currently subsidizes the costs, so that the kit is affordable. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to download a free copy of my genetic data, as this is a service that many other providers offer. However, I appreciated that Helix had explained the reasons why this wasn’t an option.

Once I’d looked through this document and the full versions of the policies (which didn’t flag up anything concerning), I ordered the test using my credit card. An email confirmed that my order had gone through and I received the kit within nine days. It was bright, and everything inside and out was nicely presented, so I’d have been happy to give or receive it as a gift. I supplied my sample via a spit tube, which was easy and quick. Helpfully, return postage had been paid for and packaging was provided, so all I had to do was pop it into a USPS postbox.

About a week later, I received confirmation that my sample had reached the lab and was being sequenced. This told me to expect another email from Intelliseq once my results were ready. However, I never received this email and it wasn’t until about six weeks later, when I checked my account, that I realized the results were ready.

The Results

When I logged into my account, the app was shown in a section titled ‘Products & Information Use”. Clicking this took me to the MyTraits Sport website, which provided links to the app on the iOS App Store.

Results Section: MyTraits Sport

Once I’d downloaded the app to my phone, I was a bit confused about whether I should log in using my Helix credentials or create a MyTraits Sport account. When the first of these options didn’t work, I went back to my Helix account to double check there were no instructions. Eventually, in the ‘Help Center’ on the Helix website, I found a page dedicated to accessing MyTraits Sport results. It told me to create an account with the same email address as I had for my Helix account.

After setting up my new account and accepting some terms and conditions specific to the app, I was able to view my results. They started with a welcome screen that explained a bit more about the app and those that had developed it. After reading through this, I looked through the results themselves, which were displayed on nine virtual cards. I could switch between them by swiping left or right, which made them easy to look through and use on my phone.

One of these cards, ‘Muscle Performance’, revealed that my muscles were more genetically suited to power activities (shown below).

Click to see larger
My ‘Muscle Performance’ result card.

My ‘Muscle Performance’ result card.

I particularly liked the pictures that accompanied this and the rest of the results. They added a bit of brightness and color to what would otherwise have been quite text-heavy explanations.

These images also helped me to differentiate between the results, which all reported on aspects related to power or endurance, each looking at a different gene. One card, which reported on a gene called AMPD1, also suggested that I was more suited to power activities. I clicked to expand it and found that the result was split into three sections, ‘What is your genotype linked with?’, ‘What does your genotype mean?’ and ‘How frequent is your genotype?’ (shown below).

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My expanded AMPD1 result.

My expanded AMPD1 result.

Reading through the ‘What is your genotype linked with?’ section, I was excited to learn that mine was associated with the ability to gain elite status when doing sprint/power sports. I wasn’t entirely sure what a genotype was, so was pleased to find that when I tapped the word I was taken to a glossary that explained. This revealed that a genotype was the sequence in my DNA that determined my individual traits.

The ‘What does your genotype mean? section explained more about the physical effects of my genotype. I found out that the gene in this result was involved in making an enzyme that helped muscles to make energy.

In the final section, ‘How frequent is your genotype?’ I was able to see where my result was most common around the world. This showed how common it was in different continents, as well as in the general population. I was impressed by how specific this section was, revealing that my result was frequently found in Lithuanian athletes.

After looking through all of the results, I found that they were a mix, with some suggesting an advantage in power and others an advantage in endurance. I was a bit confused about what this meant overall, so was happy to find a summary that combined all of the results on a scale (shown below).

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My summary page.

My summary page.

I appreciated the inclusion of suggested sports and thought that, for less than $10 (when discounting the cost of the kit), this app had provided good value for money.

Results Section: Arivale

Once I’d looked through these results, I decided to try out using the marketplace to purchase further services. I browsed through the store, as I had when choosing the initial product, and eventually settled on Arivale’s ‘Beat your genes: Nutrition and Diet Coaching’ service. This seemed as though it would nicely complement the information and advice I’d received in the MyTraits Sport app.

I was surprised to find that despite being logged in, the option to include the kit was still automatically selected, meaning that I almost purchased it again by accident.

Once I’d completed my order (I had to enter my payment details again, as I couldn’t find anywhere to save them), I received an email to confirm. This told me that Arivale should be in contact to provide details on how to create an account on their site.

The email arrived promptly, and I set up an account to access my results on the Arivale website. Although this wasn’t difficult, there were a lot more steps in the process than I’d expected.

That said, it was a bonus being able to access my results the same day as ordering. I was impressed with the amount of information in the report, and it even included a 30-minute long ‘Coaching Call’ with one of the Arivale diet coaches. Although this advice wasn’t anything that surprising (eat less fat, more greens), I thought it was a good bonus feature. For only $19, I felt that the report was good value for money.

Marketplace Experience

There wasn’t much else to look at within my account, as I had no access to my data and there were no features (e.g. research opportunities, surveys etc.) other than the apps/web apps I’d purchased. The dashboard page included my email and the ability to change my password, my ‘Sequencing progress’ (which showed as complete), and then details of the apps and web apps I’d purchased. There were also some FAQs, but these were similar to the ones I’d seen before signing up. I appreciated that no services were promoted on this page and that I could easily navigate to exactly what I needed to.

In terms of browsing the products, as previously mentioned, not being able to sort the services by anything other than category was a bit frustrating. Although I’d have liked to just pick those I was interested in, the prices of the products ranged from $10 to over $250. Therefore, it would have been useful to be able to sort or filter according to cost to just include the ones I could realistically afford.

Summary

Overall, I enjoyed Helix’s service. There was an impressive range of apps and web apps to choose from, with plenty of information provided about each. Not being able to filter the products by anything other than category was a bit frustrating, but otherwise I found the marketplace easy to navigate and order from.

Once I had ordered, however, I found the communication a bit confusing, and Helix sometimes felt like an unnecessary middle man rather than a convenient tool for my genetic data. The fact that this raw data wasn’t accessible unless I paid a substantial fee was also disappointing. It’s early days for the company though and I look forward to seeing them continue to develop this innovative service.

Visit Helix to learn more about this DNA testing service >