DecodeMe & 23andMe - Comparison Review

People interested in determining their genetic proclivity towards certain diseases and health attributes have a few choices nowadays. I have used both 23andMe and DecodeMe and would like to share my experiences with both. While both have substantially similar offerings (both health and genealogical background snapshots), the devil is in the details, details substantial enough to bridge the $1,500 price difference.

a health snapshot
a health snapshot
a genealogical snapshot
a genealogical snapshot

23andMe - applies the 80/20 rule effectively

To get a very good snapshot of your genealogical background (where your maternal and paternal lines find their origins), and quite a good view of your genetic susceptibility to a number of afflictions, 23andMe does an impressive job for about $500.

The process is simple. You place an order online, and have a kit sent to you. You have to fill a vial they provide with your saliva and Fedex it back to their labs. In a few weeks, you'll get an email saying they've scanned your genome and that your results and accompanying analysis is available online.

The screenshots to the right give you a broad view of what 23andMe gives you:

  • disease risk, based on base-pair genes correlated to disease incidences in studies (for example: having a TT genotype for gene marker rs1024161 correlates with a higher risk of alopecia areata, while a CC genotype, conversely, correlates with a lower risk); over 80 are currently tested for
  • carrier status, for hemachromatosis, cystic fibrosis, and over 20 other health conditions
  • traits, more fun-to-know stuff, like the likely color and texture of your hair, whether your earwax is wet or dry, etc.
  • drug responses, or how you are likely to respond to various drugs; I found out that I am more sensitive to warfarin than average, so would likely need a smaller dose if I were to need to take it
On the genealogical side, 23andMe reports:
  • both your maternal-line (your mother's mother's mother's...) and paternal-line (your father's father's father's...) haplogroups, by examining your mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA, respectively
  • your relative proportion of African, Asian, European and Native American blood
  • your global similarity to other populations
  • the option to find and connect with people who could be related to you. I found and connected with someone with the same specific ethnicity as one of my parents who 23andMe guesses is probably my 5th cousin. I thought this was pretty cool, and only really possible due to the fact that there are many, many users of this service the world over.

DecodeMe health snapshot
DecodeMe health snapshot
DecodeMe ancestry snapshot
DecodeMe ancestry snapshot

DecodeMe - tests for the expensive stuff

DecodeMe's service is very similar in a lot of ways, but different in price ($2,000 for DecodeMe vs $500 for 23andMe) and in a few crucial tests. 

In terms of process, you swipe the inside of your cheek with a couple of special swabs, and return by Fedex to their sample collection center. These are then shipped to Iceland where your genome is decode and analyzed. It took me about 2 weeks to get results, similar to 23andMe.

The results that are presented, both for health conditions and for your genealogical/ancestral background, are strikingly similar to that of 23andMe. (Naturally there are some differences in presentation - see the screenshots to the right) What DecodeMe does that justifies its price (quadruple that of 23andMe) is that it tests for and reports on some conditions that 23andMe does not, including:

  • Alzheimer's - this is the big one; the tests for APOE can cost $350-400 alone, and DecodeMe also tests for CLU
  • Heart attack - DecodeMe tests for 9 implicated genes, while 23andMe only tests for 2
  • Type 2 Diabetes - DecodeMe tests for 21 correlated gene variants, while 23andMe tests for 10
The increased analysis and gene correlation exists for a large number of conditions, from psoriasis to lung cancer, and in many cases, there is little overlap between the two providers' offerings. 

Have to choose?

I suspect that for many people, the price difference alone will make 23andMe the more attractive option. However, if you want stronger indications on health risks, and, especially, a test for Alzheimer's, then you'll probably want to either opt for DecodeMe or at least supplement 23andMe with individual genetic tests from other providers on the conditions you're concerned about. 

Comments 23 comments

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

Wow, this is incredible stuff. I had no idea that they could do this kind of thing. Thanks for sharing.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

You're welcome! Thank you for your comment.

vic profile image

vic 6 years ago

Very informative and interesting. Thank you.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

Like SteveO, I too am amazed that this technology exists! It must be absolutely fascinating to get the results, and no doubt could be of great help to many members of the community to help them avoid many illnesses that they have a predisposition to. It's just a pity it is so expensive. Its price alone will put it outwith the reach of most people.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, vic!

And agreed, IzzyM. I believe the price will be dropping dramatically in the coming years.

Greg 6 years ago

The (free) program Promethease ( can take the data you got from either provider and create a personal report by comparing it to SNPedia (, the open access wiki of DNA variants. You'd probably find it interesting.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Greg - great advice. I vaguely remember doing something with my 23andMe data about a year ago using Promethease. I remember it created an enormous report that I apparently didn't digest. But thank you for pointing it out - could be valuable to anyone getting their genome decoded with either service.

De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Wonerful stuff. Well done :-)

Glindail 6 years ago

Do the Native American results identify tribes? Which test would be better for Native American identification? Great article!

livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Glindail: No, they do not. They just specify an overall percentage. I would check out DNA Tribes for *possible* information on specific Native American tribes.

MEK 6 years ago

I have an odd question. I am VERY interested in my family tree and have done research on it. There is an old family story about an American Indian in the family tree which was hidden so the resulting child wouldn't be known as an indian and taken away . . long story.

I am wondering two things:

1. What is the best, most thorough DNA test to show ancestory as well as American Indian? Can you find out what tribe you are related to?

2. There have been times I've wondered if I am truly the offspring of my father. Is there a way to determine if we are fullly blood related with any of the DNA test by using my brother, nephew, neice or cousins?

livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

MEK - to answer your questions based on what I know:

1) these tests either analyze your Y-chromosome (so your father's father's father's...father) or mitochondrial DNA (so your mother's mother's mother's...mother). If the "secret Indian" in your family was your father's father's mother or your mother's father's mother, or something like that, these tests would not detect it.

That said, I've seen some ads that claim to hone in on specific Native American/American Indian tribes. These 2 are not one of them, but you might check out my other Hub:

2. 23andMe has a "Family Inheritance Advanced" feature that allows you to see how much of your genome you share with other 23andMe users you are "friends" with. My brother and I shared about 50% of our genome - pretty high. A very, very distant relative and I shared just one small stretch. You and your cousins/nephews could take the test and see if you have any shared genome lengths, but that still might not be 100% conclusive.

EnglishM 6 years ago

Interesting hub, livelonger. The age of the human genome swipe card is just around the corner. You should find my theories on the origins of all DNA very informative.

Tom 6 years ago

Be sure to read the 23andme privacy policy. In my opinion, it is horrible. They will keep and use your data even if you "opt out!"

PortiaD 5 years ago

Tom makes it sound like they are using personal information, they aren't. If you "opt in" 23andMe sends researchers aggregated, non-identifying information for studies that might be DNA from 200 bald 50 year old men to try to find the gene that predicts hairloss. If you "opt out" 23andMe might use your non-personal data to improve their service.

If this concerns you, you should either stop leaving your DNA at crime scenes or else try wrapping your head in tin foil so the government satelites can't read your thoughts...

crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Informative article.thanks for sharing.

tnbaknza 5 years ago

I am an orphan who doesn't know any of his biological family, what is the best DNA testing and how much will DNA testing tell me about who I am?

iam50fen 2 years ago

23andMe only costs $99.00 now.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 2 years ago from San Francisco Author

You're right, although they are suspending genetic testing for health insights until they comply with FDA requirements for review.

cawright42 2 years ago

IT says above that 23andme checks both maternal and paternal lines, but that it does the paternal through a y-line analysis. Does this mean that women can only get info on their maternal line?

livelonger profile image

livelonger 2 years ago from San Francisco Author

Yes, that's correct.

me 23 months ago

So by what you are saying, will it, or will it not, show the specific, all of the Ggrandparents on both the mothers and fathers side. How far back for the different lines?

livelonger profile image

livelonger 22 months ago from San Francisco Author

It doesn't show specific ancestors' genes. It shows what your mother inherited from her mother (which she inherited from her mother...) and the same for your father's line.

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