How Long Does 23andMe Take to Process Results?

Find out how long it takes for 23andMe to get results and why it takes so long to process DNA tests.

If we are to believe the procedural crime shows on television it doesn’t take more than a few hours to get a DNA test done. Wouldn’t that be fantastic if we could get our 23andMe tests back the same day and not have to wait?

The truth is, however, that DNA testing is still somewhat in its infancy and is developing almost daily in its complexity. It wasn’t until 1952 that we really started to understand the nature and importance of DNA. It’s hard to imagine that something so small is so complex but then again if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be the amazing unique creatures we are.

So, about those 23and Me tests everyone is getting, why do they take so long?

Supply and Demand

It is first important that we understand that the concept of DNA tests to track our ancestry is still relatively new. In fact 23andMe first rolled out their testing systems in 2006, and by 2019 they had already amassed 9 million customers.

There really isn’t any sign of the trend of home DNA testing for genealogy going away anytime soon although numbers are down. There are still hundreds of thousands of people testing each year and these tests take time to complete correctly.

What Takes So Much Time

As mentioned, 23andMe testing, although a simple procedure for the customer, is far from basic when it comes to the rest of the process. So what takes up the time in DNA tests?

  • Initial mailing time to the customer
  • Customer providing the DNA sample
  • Return of sample by mail.
  • Decoding the sample upon arrival
  • Receiving the results

What Is the Shipping Time?

The genealogical research site 23and Me is a truly global endeavor. The company is based in California but ships tests internationally to Canada, Australia and numerous European countries. This can often take up to two weeks between them receiving your kit order and you getting the kit in the mail.

Postal times can vary for various regions including seasonal mail volume, weather and general mail speed at both the point of origin and the final location. There are sometimes options for expedited mailing but these will usually cost a little more and may not speed up the process that much.

It is also important to be aware that as your kit is at the mercy of the postal services it is at risk of being lost or damaged. Thankfully, 23andMe is usually understanding and will reissue lost or broken kits.

Doing Your Part

The only step of the process you have personal control over is actually providing the sample. Once you get the 23andMe test kit in the mail it is vital to read and follow all instructions with great care.

It is highly important that you follow the instruction to not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before you supply your sample. This may be an issue for some especially more elderly testers who suffer from dry mouth. It may seem like a small sip of water wouldn’t make a difference but this may overly dilute your sample making it untestable.

Taking great care to supply the best sample you can will go a long way to avoiding delays. Contaminating the sample or failing to seal the specimen container correctly can lead to an untestable kit. Usually the company is very good about issuing another test but this will obviously send you back to square one.

It is also vitally important that you register your kit correctly in order to ensure your sample is connected to the correct account. So take your time and do it right.

In terms of time taken in this step, it is entirely up to the customer. Some may get it all done and back out the same day they received it. Others may take a few days or weeks to get their completed sample in the mail. Just be aware nothing else happens in the process until you mail it back to 23andMe’s labs.

Back With the Mail Again

If you received your DNA kit quickly you may find that returning your kit to 23andMes labs will go just as swiftly. That of course is not guaranteed, however, and as before the now completed test is at the mercy of the mail service.

There is a risk that your sample may get lost or damaged in the mail on its return to 23andMe. If this happens it can add a lot of time. Assume up to 2 weeks to get back to the company and if it doesn’t arrive by then perhaps consider calling to check. If the sample gets lost you may have to restart the process over.

When the Sample Gets to the Lab

Assuming the sample made it safely to the lab the real waiting time begins. Your kit first has to be checked in and entered into the system. This may take a little time depending on the volume of tests they are receiving.

If you were given a test for Christmas assume that many others may also have gotten such a gift and will be sending the tests back at the same time. This may lead to not only a mail backlog but also high volume at the lab.

Once checked in your test will begin the process of testing which according to 23andMe should take about 3-4 weeks. Thankfully during this stage you should be able to track the status of your sample online.

The testing is a first-come first-served process meaning that the quicker you get your sample in the sooner you should get it back. Some samples may require additional steps, however, for a successful processing so be aware these things can happen.

A basic overview of the process is as follows.

  • Extraction of DNA from the sample
  • Quantitation, which is a simple test to make sure no one tried to test their dog and that the sample is human
  • The sample is amplified to make sure there is enough DNA to test
  • Finally the DNA is genotyped, sorting it into categories for assessment

Getting the Results

Once the sample has been fully tested your results will be put into a more user friendly format that will give you your ethnic make up estimates and potential DNA cousins. This will be received in an email and also be attached to your 23andMe account.

So How Long Does it Take?

There are many variables that have to be considered but given optimum mail and processing a result may come through in about 4 weeks. It is important to note, though, that it can take 6 to 8 weeks especially if mail services are running slowly.

Hopefully this explanation will help you to manage your expectations for how long 23andMe is going to take to process the results and get them back to you!

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