Living DNA provides consumer DNA tests for ancestry, genealogy, and personal health research. This article explains the current ownership structure of the company.
We then address some background and connections that surround the company.
Who Owns Living DNA?
Living DNA is a family-owned business with three company directors:
- David Nicholson is managing director of both Living DNA and other related businesses
- Hannah Morden-Nicholson (David’s spouse) oversees branding and marketing
- Tricia Nicholson (David’s mother) is not involved in business operations
Living DNA is one division within a larger business, DNA Worldwide Group. David founded the parent group in 2004 with his father, Michael Nicholson.
Michael Nicholson has since stepped down as a director and company secretary. Hannah Morden-Nicholson joined as director in 2016.
The early focus of DNA Worldwide Group was on paternity tests, with a separate division for DNA and drug testing for legal purposes. David Nicholson expanded the business into consumer DNA tests in 2016 with the launch of Living DNA.
Where Is Living DNA Based?
The headquarters of Living DNA is in Frome, Somerset in South West England. Frome is a little over one hundred miles west of London. It’s a small town that wouldn’t be noted for cutting-edge technology!
Frome is pronounced “Froom”, by the way. Don’t feel bad if that’s a surprise. Even the British rank it as their most mispronounced town. It topped Woolfardisworthy (“Woolzery”) and Bicester (“Bister”).
The Nicholson family has strong links to the area. David’s parents, Michael and Tricia, converted a local farm into a large Bed & Breakfast establishment in which they also reside.
David and Hannah Nicholson developed Frome Business Park to lease office space to local enterprises.
Is Living DNA A Good Company?
I’ll come at this question from several angles. Firstly, does Living DNA provide good features for ancestry and genealogy research?
Is Living DNA good for genealogy research?
The company sells its own autosomal DNA kits, but it also accepts uploads from the big four enterprises in this field:
I haven’t purchased a LivingDNA kit, but I uploaded my Ancestry results to the Living DNA website in 2020. My interest in the genealogy features such as the list of DNA relatives. I was pleasantly surprised by getting a good number of DNA matches on the site.
But I was disappointed by the absence of any family tree feature. Even 23andMe has the facility to enter a list of ancestral surnames and locations. The only way to research family history with Living DNA is to send messages to a lucky dip of 5th cousin relatives.
There was a plain “Coming Soon” message on the family tree page when I was looking at the site in October 2020. Looking again in April 2021, there’s a fancier animation saying the same thing.
From the point of view of genealogy research, I would say that Living DNA isn’t as good as its competitors. But you may get lucky with a close cousin who is willing to answer your messages.
Is Living DNA good for ancestry research?
I know people with British heritage who say that their detailed ancestry breakdown is good with Living DNA.
The company announced in 2020 that it had more detailed African regions than its competitors.
I’m pleased to see a consumer DNA testing company make an extra effort in this area. And if there were no other considerations, I would purchase the upgrade to access the Ancestry features.
However, I’m reluctant to do business with Living DNA. This brings me back to the question of whether it’s a good company. I’ll address my concerns in the rest of this article.
Universal Medicine And Serge Benhayon
Universal Medicine is an esoteric healing business founded in Australia by former tennis coach Serge Benhayon.
In 2018, Benhayon lost a defamation case in the Australian courts. The jury found that it was true to say that he
- led a “socially harmful cult”
- “intentionally indecently touched” clients
- made “bogus healing claims”
And the legal troubles weren’t limited to Australia. The movement has adherents in the United Kingdom.
In 2020, a British court found that Universal Medicine “is a cult with some potentially harmful and sinister elements”.
In this sad case, a member of UM lost custody of her daughter “until the mother is able to free herself from the psychological bonds that tie her to Universal Medicine and its harmful teachings and beliefs”.
At this point, you may be wondering…what has this got to do with Living DNA? Read on.
What Has This Got To Do With Living DNA?
Here is how I marshaled the many and varied connections between the Living DNA directors (bottom of the pic) and Universal Medicine and Benyahon (top of the pic).
My handwriting is terrible and it’s not a great pic, so don’t squint too hard. I’ll walk through the connections, and you can make up your own mind on the implications.
Tricia Nicholson, Company Director Of Living DNA
Tricia Nicholson and her husband Michael own Upper Vobster Farm, a Bed & Breakfast near Frome. The B&B offers additional accommodation for the Lighthouse conference facility in Frome.
The Lighthouse is a conference and accommodation facility that hosts Universal Medicine events.
The Lighthouse is owned by local businessman Simon Williams, who was a company director of Universal Medicine UK from 2008 to 2013. I’ll be coming back to this guy later.
Michael Nicholson (parent of David) is a former director of DNA Worldwide Group (parent of Living DNA). Michael Nicholson gave a substantial donation to build the Lighthouse facility. He was also a trustee or director of a Frome-based charity called Sound Foundation.
Sound Foundation is closely associated with Universal Medicine. So much so, that the UK Charity Commission made the charity comply with an action plan to rectify its affairs. They were adjudicating on a complaint that “referred to relationships between the Sound Foundation and other organizations, one of which was Universal Medicine”.
Alongside Michael Nicholson, Simone Benhayon was also a director of Sound Foundation.
Simone is a daughter of Serge Benhayon, and (at the time of writing) is a director of Universal Medicine UK. Simone teaches esoteric healing at the Lighthouse facility. This lady is a former spouse of David Nicholson, the founder of Living DNA.
I wouldn’t normally connect someone with the activities of his ex-wife. That would be unfair. So, I’ll move to the right-hand side of the diagram.
Hannah Morden Nicholson, Company Director Of Living DNA
Hannah Morden is married to David Nicholson and is a company director of Living DNA.
Remember Simon Williams, owner of the Lighthouse and ex-director of Universal Medicine UK? Williams was also President of the Frome Chamber Of Commerce.
In 2019, the BBC (the British national broadcaster) aired an investigation into Universal Medicine and its links to Frome. The bad publicity led to the resignation of Simon Williams from the Chamber of Commerce.
Hannah Morden-Nicholson was also on the Frome Chamber of Commerce. The local newspaper reported that “committee member Hannah Morden, also stepped down from her role after being linked to Universal Medicine.”
David Nicholson, Company Director Of Living DNA
David Nicholson is the head of operations of Living DNA, so his connections are most pertinent in my eyes.
And I wouldn’t cast aspersions on a fella for the associations of his mother, his father, his ex-wife, or his current wife. Although I might raise an eyebrow at the sheer weight of numbers.
There was a great deal of negative publicity surrounding Serge Benyahon and Universal Medicine after the Australian court cases.
To counteract the media and blog coverage, the adherents of UM set up a website to publish personal testimonies. There was a lot of focus on the wonderful aspects of UM and Serge Benhayon.
James Nicholson, brother of David, wrote an article in 2014 titled “Serge Benhayon – A True Role Model”. This was before the court cases, but it’s still on the website. I don’t want to link to it, but you’ll find it with an internet search.
But again, David isn’t his brother’s keeper.
David Nicholson also wrote an article for this website in 2016. It was titled “Universal Medicine – The Facts Of My Experience”. It was a glowing endorsement.
“There is no doubt that Serge Benhayon, his family and Universal Medicine have the deepest care and love for humanity that I know.”
David’s article was deleted from the website at some point after the 10th of October 2020. That was the last time point that it was archived by the Wayback Machine (the website that archives web content).
The disastrous Australian court case was in 2018. The BBC documentary was in March 2020, and the British family court case was in July 2020. That’s a fair bit of water under the bridge before removing a personal endorsement.
However, I acknowledge that the article was removed. I see no current endorsement of UM from David Nicholson.
Where I’m at with Living DNA
The links and connections are too much for me. I would like to see a clear repudiation of Universal Medicine by Living DNA as a corporate entity. Until then, I will refrain from paying for their services.
Other DNA Testing Companies And Ownership
LivingDNA isn’t the only company where there are some dubious connections surrounding the ownership. We wrote about the new owners of FamilyTreeDNA, and some controversy in Australia from how they marketed their products.
If you have a general interest in corporate ownership of the DNA testing companies, check these articles out:
GEDmatch doesn’t test your DNA, but you can upload your results to their website for analysis. We have an article on who owns GEDmatch too.