What is a home DNA test kit?
In our recent article What is home DNA testing? we described a range of factors associated to DNA home testing kits. However, you may still be left wondering ‘What exactly is included in a home DNA kit and how do you use one?’ Although different home DNA test kits include and require different things, there are certain aspects which are common to most kits, or at least to those in a specific category. There are also arrangements, such as where the kit should be delivered, that should be considered for some types of test.
There are an increasing number of home DNA test categories. Some of the most popular and well-known are paternity tests, ancestry tests and health-related tests. The home DNA kits that you receive for each of these types of test are very similar, despite offering information about such disparate subjects. Less common types, such as prenatal and legal DNA tests, often come with specialised kits and the process you need to follow for these tests is slightly different. Find out more about these types of test in our articles DNA testing during pregnancy and What is legal DNA testing?.
What is included in a home DNA testing kit?
What you’ll receive in your home DNA kit will depend on two main factors. The first, and most influential, is the type of test you take. Most personal DNA tests will only require a cheek swab or saliva sample (e.g. a paternity test), but others may require blood (e.g. a prenatal DNA test for your baby’s gender), and some companies will even accept samples on household items (e.g. DNA tests to establish the possible infidelity of your partner). The equipment you are provided with and the extent to which these tests can be considered ‘home’ DNA kits therefore varies quite a bit.
The second factor responsible for the variation in what’s included in a home DNA test kit is simply the preferred sample collection method of the private genetic testing company. A good example of this is for paternity testing – some companies will send you a cheek swab (that looks like a cotton bud), others will send you a cheek scraper (which looks and feels a bit like a soft bristled toothbrush), while others may include a small container in the kit to collect a saliva sample. All three methods allow you to collect a sample containing a sufficient volume of DNA, and all three are commonly used for paternity testing.
Where home DNA testing kits come with saliva collection equipment, they’ll usually contain a solution to be added to the sample – this preserves and protects the DNA in your saliva, ensuring it doesn’t degrade or get contaminated before reaching the lab. All you have to worry about is making sure that the sample container is properly sealed, and there’ll be instructions in the kit for how to do this. Many DNA testing companies (but not all) will also provide return packaging in the kit for sending back your samples.
For some DNA home testing kits, blood must be provided in place of an oral sample, that’s because there are certain tests that require blood in order to obtain conclusive results. Prenatal DNA testing is an example of where blood is required – this is because the tests depend on analysing the unborn baby’s DNA, which circulates in the mother’s blood and is not present in her saliva. However, in the case of paternity testing after the child has been born, although some home DNA testing providers let you choose to provide an oral or blood sample, neither method is more accurate than the other. If you need or choose to provide a blood sample then the home DNA kit you receive will include the equipment needed to take the sample.
Remember, certain prenatal DNA tests require more than just a drop of blood (e.g. prenatal paternity tests) and so you’d need to have this taken by a medical professional. In this case, the private genetic testing company you order from will expect to send the home DNA kit directly to your doctor.
Discreet home DNA tests
As discussed, you may order a test where DNA samples can be taken from household items. A so-called ‘discreet’ home DNA test for paternity is one such example, where the alleged father’s sample can be collected at the lab by testing an item he has been in contact with (e.g. toothbrushes, bed sheets). In theory, these tests allow an individual to test the DNA of another person without their knowledge or consent. Although this is illegal in the UK, due to the Human Tissue Act, there are several providers that offer these ‘discreet’ tests. However, be aware that even if you own the item, testing it for someone else’s DNA is still illegal unless you have their explicit consent, and only test it for the purpose disclosed to them. When ordering this type of test, the home DNA kit you’ll receive will contain equipment for you to provide your own sample (usually a cheek swab), and instructions will be provided for returning it to the lab along with the household item that you want to test.
Pet DNA testing
DNA tests are also available for your pets and the equipment for using a home DNA kit to test them is surprisingly similar to that used for human tests. Most will include a mouth swab, which you use to collect a saliva sample from your pet’s mouth. This is just as painless for them as it is for humans, and means that in most cases, the tests are suitable for puppies and kittens.
One common exception is for the testing of birds (usually to determine gender), which requires either a feather or small blood sample. If providing feathers, you will be required to pluck about five of them from the breast area. If providing blood, you will have to clip a toenail (claw) to obtain a few drops. These samples are so simple to collect that you don’t usually receive a physical home DNA testing kit, but rather are given instructions online for how to take the samples and how to send them to the lab. It is normally suggested that the feathers are sent as they are, in a plastic sandwich bag. For a blood sample, this is usually collected on cards which are provided as part of the online instructions for you to print out. These should be allowed to air dry before being stored and they should be sent back to the lab with the relevant forms (also provided online). An example of these online instructions, which differ little from company to company, is available on the International Biosciences ‘Avian DNA Sexing’ page.
Costs for DNA home testing kits
Another factor associated to buying a home DNA testing kit is the cost – some companies will give you one price for the whole service, while others will charge for the kit and the lab processing separately. As outlined in our previous article, What is home DNA testing?, the cost of home DNA test kits can vary, depending on both the type of test and the company that you buy from. Generally speaking, the more DNA there is to be analysed and the more complex the analysis, the higher it is likely to cost. The cost of having your whole genome sequenced can be up to £8000, whereas many paternity tests can be purchased for less than £100.
Postage and packaging
Apart from the cost of the home DNA testing kit and the lab processing, there are other costs to look out for. Firstly, you may need to pay hefty postage and packaging charges, especially if you order a home DNA kit from a different country. This is not usually included in the advertised price, but added on at the checkout, so make sure you keep this in mind when comparing products.
Delivering the samples back to the lab is sometimes left to the customer to organise and pay for. However, many companies will include this as part of the service so again, this is worth checking before you buy.
Another factor that can contribute to the cost of a home DNA kit is optional extras. One example of this is for genetic art, where you can often choose to receive a digital copy of your artwork – a useful option if you’re purchasing the art as a gift.
Another example is for DNA home testing kits for paternity – testing more than one alleged father as part of a single test will cost a bit more, but this is much more cost-effective than buying a separate paternity test for each alleged father.
Many companies will offer you faster sample processing for an additional fee, and in the case of ‘peace of mind’ paternity testing, this can reduce the time it takes to get the results from two weeks to just eight hours!
Where to buy home DNA test kits
There are a few different ways in which you can go about ordering a home DNA testing kit. Buying a DNA test online is by far the most common way, and using our site to read reviews and compare prices beforehand is a good way to find the test that’s right for you.
It’s also possible to buy an over the counter DNA test; paternity tests and even tests to trace your ancestry can be purchased in stores such as Superdrug. You can also order private DNA tests through your doctor; in some cases they’ll receive the testing kit and you’ll need to make an appointment to provide your sample, in other cases your doctor just needs to approve the purchase and the home DNA kit will be sent directly to you.
What support is available for those using a home DNA testing kit?
In the vast majority of cases, companies providing home DNA testing kits will offer phone support so that you can ask questions about the testing process, and discuss the possible test results and their implications. However, it’s worth noting that not all direct to consumer genetic testing companies employ professionals who are trained specifically to provide DNA testing advice – these professionals are known as ‘genetic counsellors’.
Where private genetic testing companies offer a consultation with a genetic counsellor, this is often because they’re reporting on your predisposition to a medical condition. The counsellors may be directly employed by the company or they may work for a partner organisation. If you want to take a genetic predisposition test for a medical condition, it’s recommended that you check the company’s site to confirm the type of support that’s provided.
It’s not currently compulsory for companies to offer genetic counselling but forthcoming updates to the law mean that it will be, specifically for home DNA tests that report on your predisposition to an untreatable medical condition.
What else might be included as part of a home DNA testing kit?
Some home DNA testing companies will offer to update your results on an ongoing basis as new research is published. This is particularly relevant to ancestry and health-related DNA tests. Sometimes new markers or genetic variants are discovered which shed light on your ancestry or indicate a disease that you may suffer with, at other times, research may be published that refutes a relationship between a genetic variant and a result you’ve received. Good DNA testing companies will base their results on several peer-reviewed studies, but even these can be refuted down the line.