Living DNA Review

Known for in-depth British Isles ancestry results, Living DNA is one of the leading genetic testing companies offering self-administered DNA tests. Their clear, well-illustrated test results and inclusion of motherline and fatherline information make the test an ideal choice for those more focused on exploring ethnic ancestry and wellness than locating living relatives.

In a nutshell…

Compared to their competitors, Living DNA is a great choice for accessing some interesting information on your maternal and paternal ancestry without paying the costs associated with more in-depth tests. The layout of the test’s results is both pleasing to look at and easy to parse, and their customer service is remarkable. While Living DNA’s ethnic regions tend to be broad, especially with the Starter and Wellness tests, their in-depth regions in the British Isles can be particularly revealing to those from Scotland, Wales, and other UK counties.

Strengths

  • Living DNA presents their test results in a way that’s both attractive and easy for users to understand
  • The test offers in-depth UK ethnicity results that aren’t standard in competitor tests
  • Maternal and paternal haplogroup information is included in the price of the base test (paternal haplogroup information accessible to males only)

Limitations

  • Living DNA’s test results don’t include a chromosome browser, so you can’t explore your chromosomes or compare them against your matches’ chromosomes
  • When using the Starter or Wellness kits, ethnic regions are extremely limited, encompassing only 8 broad global regions
  • Although maternal and paternal haplogroup information is bundled with the base test, there’s no option to take mtDNA or Y-DNA tests for more in-depth motherline and fatherline results

How Does The Living DNA Test Work?

There are three types of DNA testing typically performed for the determination of ethnicity and ancestry, and each reveals unique data about your background.
  • mtDNA. Also called mitochondrial DNA, this is the DNA you’ve received from your mother. She received it your grandmother, and so on back through your genetic line; the DNA remains virtually unchanged, and is linked to a haplogroup that connects you and your maternal line to a single ancient ancestor.
  • Y-DNA. This DNA is passed down from fathers to sons, just as mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mothers to daughters. The caveat here is that a Y chromosome is required to take this test; those without one can test their father, brother, paternal uncle, or paternal cousin to access information about their paternal haplogroup.
  • Autosomal DNA. The most common and least costly DNA test, an autosomal DNA test measures the DNA you’ve received equally from your mother and father. You’ve received 50% of your autosomal DNA from each parent, which means that you’ve received 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great grandparent, and so on back through your family line. It’s the best kind of test for matching you for living relatives within about five generations, but genetics typically become too diluted to measure beyond that time span.
While Living DNA only offers autosomal DNA testing currently, some motherline and fatherline elements are bundled into your results. All testers have access to their maternal haplogroup, and males will be able to access information on their paternal haplogroup as well. This does notinclude the more in-depth results offered by mtDNA and Y-DNA tests or access to motherline and fatherline matches.

Currently, Living DNA offers four test kits.

  • || Starter A standard mouth swab DNA test featuring the company’s new Family Matching service, DNA breakdown for eight broad global regions, information on nutrition including DNA-inspired meal suggestions, and workout recommendations based on your body type
  • || Full Ancestry Ideal for those most interested in in-depth ethnic ancestry, this test features around 500 years worth of global familial ancestry as well as sub-regional breakdowns offering more specific data than the starter test; also included is information on ancient ancestry, including a migration map and information on where offspring of your haplogroups are living today
  • || Wellbeing Offers the ancestry results associated with the starter test as well as wellness results including notes on the way your body responds to key vitamins, the genetic variant that predicts how you metabolize certain vitamins and minerals, and the way your body processes gluten, lactose, and other foods; also included is advice on nutrition, workout plans, and ideal cooldowns
  • || Wellbeing & Ancestry Includes all features of the Full Ancestry and Wellbeing kits, the highest tier test offered by Living DNA

What’s Contained In My Kit?

The Living DNA test kit contains the instructions you’ll need to complete your test, a pouched tube that contains your testing swab, a silver return pouch with a bar code sticker, and a postage-paid return envelope/bag.
Photo by Living DNA.
Your kit will also contain an activation code which must be used during the creation of your online Living DNA account.

The Testing Experience

No technical knowledge or prior experience is needed to take your Living DNA test — they’re designed to be accessible to people of all skill levels.

1. Selecting Your Test and Shipping

The first step, of course, is purchasing your test kit. Living DNA doesn’t sell their product in stores, so you’ll need to navigate to their website to place an order. You’ll be choosing from the Starter, Full Ancestry, Wellbeing, and Wellbeing & Ancestry tests — if you’re still wondering which is right for you, check out our explanation above. Once you’ve made your pick, it’s time to deal with shipping. If you’re buying one or two tests, standard shipping costs $9.95, and your parcel will arrive within 5 – 10 days. If tests are on sale and you’re thinking of gifting them, Living DNA offers a bit of extra incentive to make a bulk purchase by offering free standard shipping for orders of three or more tests. There’s also an express shipping option, but it’s quite pricey at $39.95 and still requires 2 – 3 days for delivery.

2. Create an Account

When your test arrives, you’re ready to get started! The first step is to register your test kit online and create a Living DNA account. This will attach your sample to your account, allowing you to view your test results when they’re ready. If your sample is processed without registration, your results will be lost.

3. Taking the Test

Next, it’s time to test. It’s important that you not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, or brush your teeth for at least one hour before you take your test, as these activities can make it hard to process your sample accurately. If you’re having issues finding a time to take the test, plan to do it immediately after waking up. To take the test, remove the swab tube from its plastic pouch and open the tube to access the test swab — it opens at the center. Once the swab is opened, swab your cheek in a rotating motion for 60 seconds. Reconnect the swab half of the cylinder to its base, creating a secure specimen tube for your sample. Next, grab the silver specimen pouch. There will be a bar code sticker on the back, which you must peel off and wrap around your specimen tube. This connects your specific specimen to your registered kit, which is the second of the two necessary steps to connect your kit to your online results. Once you’ve placed the sticker on the tube, place the tube inside the specimen pouch.

4. Post Specimen

When your specimen has been secured in the pouch, put it in the postage-paid return envelope and place it in any mailbox. It will then be on its way to the Living DNA testing facility for processing, which typically takes between 10 and 12 weeks.

When and How Will I Receive My Results?

Receiving your results may take up to 10 – 12 weeks. You will receive an email when your test results are ready, at which time you should log into your Living DNA account to view your results dashboard. You’ll see that your results are divided into four categories: Ancestry, Research, Share Results, and Test Details. The majority of your ethnic and ancestry data is located in the Ancestry category, which divides content into Family Ancestry, Motherline, and Fatherline.

Your Results Explained

Once an email arrives alerting you that your test results are ready, it’s time to log in to the Living DNA website to view the report they’ve generated.
Granular ethnicity estimates for those with British or Irish ancestry.
When you navigate to your results, you’ll see a launch page that walks you through the types of DNA we mentioned earlier: mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal DNA. It gives a detailed, accurate, and beginner-friendly explanation that can offer some clarity when interpreting your results.

Ancestry

This is where the majority of your results pertaining to ethnicity and ancestry will be located. The Ancestry category is divided into three possible subheadings.

1. Family Ancestry

Your family ancestry results, which are divided into four further subheadings, pertain to your autosomal DNA. According to Living DNA, their autosomal testing goes beyond the abilities of most companies, offering results within 10 generations — it’s hard to know how true this is due to the newness of their matching database. Family ancestry can be viewed four ways:
  • Map. An interactive, color coded map displaying your family ancestry; Starter and Wellbeing editions of the test break down DNA into 8 broad global regions, but Full Ancestry and Wellbeing & Ancestry tests include 80 regions worldwide, including 21 British Isles-specific regions. Here, your ancestry can be viewed globally, regionally, and sub-regionally. You can also view complete, standard, and cautious interpretations of your DNA, which vary in how they allocate hard-to-interpret data — hovering over each interpretation offers a full explanation.
  • Chart. Straightforward and simple, the chart interprets your ethnicity as a simple ring graph with a color-coded key.
  • What Makes You. Another way to visualize ethnicity, this interpretation allows you to view your ethnic makeup as a portion of dots which make up a human figure. As you click through your results, certain colors become more prominent to give you a visualization of how much of “you” they actually comprise.
  • Through History. Less about ethnicity and more about ancient ancestry, this interactive map allows you to see the spread of your ancestors at points in history ranging from approximately 1,000 years to 80,000 years ago. The map is shaded and features dots, but no explanation or key is offered to clarify what they represent, which is a bit confusing from a company that’s generally pretty clear.

2. Motherline

For those looking for information on their maternal ancestry, this section pertains to the DNA you inherited from your mother specifically.
Trace your motherline back through the ages.
It is broken into four subheadings: History, Coverage Map, Migration Map, and Phylogenetic Tree.
  • History. Here, you’ll find information about your maternal haplogroup — this is a group of people you’re a part of, all of whom are descended from a single female ancestor. Haplogroups are written as a series of letters and/or numbers, and are required information when participating in genome projects. You’ll also learn about your subclade, which is your personal set of genetic markers; you can think of this as your particular branch in the haplogroup tree.
  • Coverage Map. This map displays how prominent your haplogroup’s population currently is worldwide as well as where they’re most likely to be located. Frequently, these results don’t correlate with the ethnic ancestry provided by your autosomal results.
  • Migration Map. This map displays the migratory path taken by your ancient maternal ancestors. This map is not interactive, and again, is likely to vary from your autosomal test results.
  • Phylogenetic Tree. An informative diagram which shows your subclave’s connection to your maternal haplogroup, as well as how yours is connected to all other maternal haplogroups going back to the first humans. This information is most likely to be useful to those interested in involvement with genome projects.

3. Fatherline

As we’ve established, it’s only possible to receive fatherline DNA testing if you have a Y chromosome. For males who’ve taken the test, this subheading will be available as part of your results. The Fatherline results provide the same information about your paternal ancestry as the Motherline results do about your maternal ancestry. This includes a history section detailing your haplogroup and subclave, a map of your haplogroup’s current global presence, a migration map tracing ancient paternal ancestry, and a phylogenetic tree demonstrating your subclave’s connection to your haplogroup’s connection to early man.

Download Raw Data

This section simply allows you to download your raw DNA data for use on other sites and in genetic databases. This is particularly helpful when using Living DNA, as their Family Networks feature is relatively new and many users still struggle to find matches using the site.

Family Networks

Those looking to make matches with Living DNA may have more luck in the future, but their recently launched Family Networks has a relatively small opt-in database in which many users are still struggling to find living relatives.
Living DNA database is still in its infancy meaning that you are likely to find fewer family members to contact (for now).
It’s still in development, and the company is willing to admit that matches may be few and far between at first. The service has the capacity to find relatives as distant as fourth cousins, but because it’s still very much in its beginning stages, it’s not ideal for those who are testing specifically to match with unknown family members.

Research

If you’re comfortable allowing your data to be used as part of Living DNA’s Global Research project, viewing this category will allow you to opt into the research database. You’ll also find information on this page about the ways that your willingness to share your data can positively impact the future accuracy and specificity of human genetic testing.

Share Results

If you’d love to share your results on your blog, social media, or through your email, clicking on Share Results will help you do so without having to share your login or take a bunch of screenshots. The section will walk you through creating a bespoke link for sharing the results that can be clicked on and viewed at by anyone you share it with. Living DNA will never publicize your link — where and with whom it is shared are at your sole discretion.

Wellness Results

For those who have taken a test that includes a wellness component, your results will also include a separate section featuring DNA-based insights on your health that can be of assistance when determining how to monitor your lifestyle.
Get insights how your genetics may affect your health and lifestyle choices.
Information like your genetic eye color, food response, and vitamin levels are provided, as are suggestions on the best workouts for your body type, the best ways to cool down, and the ideal diet for your overall wellness. No genetic disease testing is available through Living DNA.

Is the Living DNA Test Accurate?

Living DNA does not offer a direct figure on their test’s accuracy, but instead says that the results are as accurate as science currently allows. They also note that your results are always updated for accuracy as new information becomes available.

Will Living DNA Keep My Information Private?

Privacy doesn’t need to be a concern when testing with Living DNA. In fact, your sample is labeled by a bar code rather than your name, so the decision to disclose your legal name is completely up to you. The company also never sells or shares your personal information or test results.

How Does Living DNA Compare to the Competition?

Living DNA vs. Family Tree DNA

Compared to FTDNA, Living DNA offers a wider range of worldwide ethnic regions when using a test with an ancestry component. They also have a wellness testing option, something which Family Tree does not make available. FTDNA has a free family tree creation tool and a much better matching database than Living DNA, and they offer separate mtDNA and Y-DNA testing, but no haplogroup testing is bundled into their autosomal test options. Read our complete FamilyTreeDNA review.

Living DNA vs. AncestryDNA

Although AncestryDNA is one of the top names in the game, there are a couple areas where Living DNA outshines the popular service. Their inclusion of maternal and paternal haplogroup information with basic ancestry testing goes above and beyond, as does the specificity of their British Isles ethnic regions. Ancestry offers some of the best matching available online, as well as research and family tree creation tools, but many of their genealogical resources require a subscription — with Living DNA, there are never additional subscription fees. Learn more about Ancestry DNA with this in-depth guide.

Living DNA vs. My Heritage

A greater number of global regions in Ancestry tests and bundled maternal and paternal haplogroup information are two areas in which Living DNA dominates competitor MyHeritage. On the flip side, MH’s test offers family tree creation and a rich online genealogical community that includes matching, but maintaining a tree over 250 people requires a pricey subscription. Finally, MyHeritage offers the option of more detailed health and wellness results than LivingDNA can provide. Explore MyHeritage DNA with this in-depth review

Living DNA vs. 23andMe

LivingDNA and 23andMe offer a similar feature in the form of haplogroup information bundled into an autosomal test, but the former offers a bit more detail when it comes to illustrating ancient origins. 23andMe outshines Living DNA when it comes to health results, as they’re well known for their genetic testing capacity. They also feature matching with living relatives and the broadest ethnic regions in the world, but are still strongly rivaled by Living DNA in terms of identifying specific subgroups of British Isles ancestry. Find out more about the 23andMe DNA test.

Living DNA: Frequently Asked Questions

Will I Be Able To Locate Living Family Members?

It’s possible, but you shouldn’t count on it. Living DNA’s Family Networks feature is, as they admit, relatively new. It’s still in development, and the amount of people in the opt-in database isn’t large, which means finding matches is still very difficult. There’s nothing wrong with opting in in the hopes that you’ll be able to match in the future, but it’s not currently the ideal test for those seeking out living relatives.

Does the Test Measure Neanderthal DNA?

While your test results will provide interesting information about your ancient ancestors and their migratory paths, no specific information about Neanderthal DNA is provided by Living DNA.

Does the Test Measure Native American Ancestry?

The Living DNA test measures your DNA against 80 regions around the world, and your results may place you in North or Central American populations, but it is not possible for the test to detect tribal ancestry. Your results cannot be used as proof of Native American ancestry. A genealogical effort to unearth Native American roots requires particular steps. Start here to get a better understanding of Native American DNA testing.

Is It Possible to Discover My Health or Medical Information With the Living DNA Test?

It’s possible to access some interesting information about your health and wellness if you take a Living DNA test that features a Wellbeing component. These tests include information about the best diet, workouts, and cooldowns for your body type as well as information about how your body metabolizes certain foods and vitamins. Additional basic health and wellness information is also provided, but genetic disease testing isn’t available with this test.

Will My Results Be Clearer If Other Family Members Also Take the Living DNA Test?

DNA varies slightly from person to person, so having other close family members take an autosomal DNA test can always help to create a clearer picture of your living ancestry. This can be especially helpful for women who can’t access information about their Y-DNA, as having your father, brother, paternal uncle, or paternal cousin take the test can provide paternal haplogroup information. Additionally, the more of your family members take the test and opt into Living DNA’s database, the more likely you are to eventually find a broader pool of living relatives.

Can I Export My Raw Data For Use on Other Sites?

Yes you can, and it’s very simple to do so. Just click on “Download Raw Data” in the left-hand navigation menu of your results, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can download your file for use in other genetic databases.

How Much Does the Test Cost?

Living DNA currently sells four tests. Their costs are as follows:
  • Starter: $49
  • Ancestry: $99
  • Wellness: $129
  • Ancestry & Wellness: $179
The kits frequently go on sale throughout the year, especially as major holidays approach, so be mindful of possible discounts and keep friends and family in mind while shopping, especially with the convenient bulk shipping discount the company offers.

Should I Give Kits as Gifts?

Absolutely! Living DNA kits make a wonderful gift for those eager to explore their ancestry, and testing family members can help to offer a more well-rounded picture of your genetic heritage. The kits typically go on sale around big holidays like Christmas, as well as special family occasions like mother’s day and father’s day. The kits don’t expire, so stocking up and hanging on to them until it’s time to gift is no big deal. The company’s bulk shipping discount is also a major incentive to consider stocking up while tests are on sale — if you buy three or more, standard shipping is free.

Expert Tips

  1. The quality of this test is high, but they’re just getting their feet off the ground. In the coming years, as more users test with the company, they’ll be able to provide a broader range of information.
  2. If you’ve tested with Ancestry and feel the results were limited, taking the Living DNA test and uploading the results to your Ancestry account for a more exact test results with a wider base of comparison.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for streamlined, attractively-presented, and well-explained test results, you won’t be disappointed by Living DNA. Although their ethnic regions are broader than some competitors, and the capacity to find matches is currently limited, those seeking out detailed information about their British Isles ancestry may have the most luck with this test. The bundling of ancient ancestry and haplogroup information without additional costly testing also make the results of the Living DNA test a bit more interesting than the average autosomal test.
Hannah H.

Hannah H.

Hannah is both a parent and a freelance journalist and author. You go, girl! She is an impeccable wordsmith and her warm and witty outlook on life makes her pieces a joy to read.

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