Genes for Identifying Facial Structure Identified
A research team lead by Manfred Kayser of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam has identified five genes that determine facial structure, a discovery that could aid scientists and medical doctors in understanding facial deformities and may even find use in the field of forensic science by allowing scientists to someday be able to create a visual approximation of a person’s appearance based on DNA evidence.
“We are marking the beginning of understanding the genetic basis of the human face,” said Kayser.
The study involved 5,388 volunteers of European ancestry who were subjected to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and then subsequently had their DNA genomes reviewed to discover which genes were responsible for the composition of 48 facial characteristics, while comparing these results to pictures of 3,867 other participants to determine a pattern.
The resulting finds concluded that three genes, PRDM16, PAX3 and TP63, which were previously suspected of determining facial structure, did in fact play a role in how a person looked. Two additional genes, C5orf50, and COL17A1, were also shown to help determine facial composition.
“Perhaps some time it will be possible to draw a phantom portrait of a person solely from his or her DNA left behind, which provides interesting applications such as in forensics,” said Kayser, in regards to his finding’s possible forensic applications, while cautioning that such uses are currently a “far-fetched, ‘CSI’-like scenario.”
However, Kayser’s research group has already put some of their findings to work in the forensics field by releasing a DNA test in August that identifies a suspect’s hair color, including the ability to differentiate shades. The test is up to 90% accurate for people of dark or red hair color, and up to 80% for people with light to dark blonde hair.
“That we are now making it possible to predict different hair colors from DNA represents a major breakthrough because, so far, only red hair color, which is rare, could be estimated from DNA,” said Kayser.
Kayser plans to continue his research in the hopes of discovering further genetic associations for additional facial features.