In this article, we will discuss why it takes so long to receive your results from the time of purchase, the variables, and what you can do in the interim.
For over a decade now, mail-order DNA testing from 23andMe has remained quite a trend. 23andMe first rolled out genomic testing in 2006 and, in 2019, company data was released stating that they had tested over 9 million consumers! Though the company has undergone updates to their platform and updates to their genetic accuracy, one thing has never changed – The wait time it takes to receive your results.
Related: 23andMe vs Ancestry.
Before we get too far into the article, I want you to understand that consumer DNA tests are very new. We were not aware of how the inherited segments were passed down from parent to child and many of DNA’s other random behaviors until 1952. Using DNA in the form of genealogy is even younger than that, as you would have probably guessed.
Furthermore, testing genetic material has been an entire feat all in itself as scientists have used trial and error over the last few decades to perfect different types of processes. As they have gotten better and better, companies have utilized this technique to put forth genealogical opportunities for consumers like you and me.
Why does 23andMe take so long?
There are several reasons why it takes so long. These reasons are;
- Waiting to receive the kit
- Giving the DNA sample (spitting in the testing tube)
- Returning the kit back to the lab
- Decoding your sample at the lab
- Receiving your DNA results
How long does 23andMe take to ship?
23andMe ships to many countries in the world (including Canada, Australia, and many countries in Europe) so, depending on where you are, the shipping is going to be different. Generally, it takes up to a couple of weeks for the kit to arrive (mainly for those in North America). There are options that you can select to expedite shipping as well, this will speed the process up exponentially.
Due to the fact that the kits are shipped in the mail, you have to take into account all of the variables that can go wrong. Delays can happen, kits can be lost, delivered to the wrong address, etc, and it is important to know that if this is ever the case, 23andMe generally stands behind sending another kit. Though this is not entirely common, it happens. You should also account for mail pileups around the holidays.
Upon the arrival of your DNA kit, the time in which you return it is up to you. Be cautious of whether you have eaten or drunk anything in the thirty minutes before providing your sample, as noted in all 23andMe kit instructions. Make sure that your kit is registered correctly under your account, and get it to the mailbox.
If you are an excitable go-getter, this is generally something you can get into a dropbox the same day you receive it. For others, it might take weeks to find the time or the drive to sit down and take a few minutes to get everything in order. No judgment, I totally get it.
How long does 23andMe take to ship back?
As discussed, the shipping is open to a lot of variables in terms of how long it takes to get back to the lab. However, all kits are mailed with first-class, pre-paid shipping labels so turnaround times should not take more than a couple of business days for your kit to arrive at the lab. With the chemical solution in the testing tube with which you mix your saliva, your sample is not likely to encounter any deteriorating conditions between the time you put it in the box to the time it arrives at the lab.
How long does 23andMe take to process?
Upon arrival at the lab, the kit will go through a process at the lab which allows the kit data to successfully pair with your account. Then, the sample processing itself can begin. From the 23andMe website;
Sample processing takes approximately 3-4 weeks from the time your sample is received at the lab. You can find up-to-date information regarding your sample status by logging in to your 23andMe account. Processing times are estimates, and should not be considered a guarantee that your results will be returned by a particular date. While samples are processed in the order in which they are received, some samples may require additional steps to be processed successfully, therefore extending the processing time.
The variables with which the processing stage can be prolonged are many. Generally, around the time the company offers discounts (Christmas, Father’s day, etc), the sales go up. When they send out more kits, they receive more kits and, though this is taken into account within their estimated 3-4 weeks, things go wrong and it can take longer.
If your saliva sample was mostly bubbles or did not mix with the chemical solution good enough, the sample may not be able to process in the lab correctly. If there is any other reason your kit does not pass through processing correctly, 23andMe will inform you via email and you will get to submit another order to have a second kit mailed to you.
At the lab, your kit will go through the following processes:
- Extraction: Separating your DNA apart from other particles in your sample.
- Quantitation: Ensuring that the lab is dealing with your human DNA and not the DNA of bacteria that may have been
- Amplification: The lab makes copies of the extracted DNA so there’s enough to test.
- Genotyping: Sorting your DNA into compatible its categories.
After these processes have been successfully completed, your DNA kit begins bioinformatics which allows the data to be presentable in a file type that users can eventually download and upload on to other websites. Opening this file and reading it would not make any sense to you or me but the file essentially converted your genetic code into digital code. Do not worry, they cannot clone you!
For law enforcement, who don’t usually send in saliva samples protected by chemical solutions, their crime scene evidence can take much longer to process. Generally, they have to put their evidence through multiple stages of DNA extraction as well as a step that populates the DNA material so they have more to work with. Long story short, television shows are not realistic!
How long does 23andMe take to compute results?
After all of the above steps were taken, you will receive an email that your results are ready! It might seem like an eternity but there are several things that you can do in the meantime. If you’re testing for genealogical purposes, make sure that your family tree is built and well-sourced with documentation (birth records, death records, census records, etc.). If you’re an adoptee or someone looking for a biological family, compile non-identifying information from the organization that you were adopted through. Make sure you’re up to date with your state laws and try to obtain your original birth certificate. If you are just doing the test for fun, hang tight, it won’t be too long!
Awaiting DNA results can be incredibly arduous. Time can go by so slowly when we are awaiting something exciting. Though we may revert back to having the patience of a child on the night of Christmas Eve, we must consider the processes and those who work to ensure the processes go smoothly. We are so incredibly lucky to live in a day an age where cutting-edge technology can allow us to visibly read about our genetic past.
A little bit of patience goes a long way!