DNA Gives Clues to the Shape of Suspects' Faces
In the future, suspect sketches may not need to depend on eyewitness descriptions. Instead, police may be able to reconstruct what suspects' faces look like from DNA they leave on-scene.
At least, one recent study takes a step in that direction, by looking for genes that are associated with facial characteristics. In a report published yesterday (Sept. 13), an international team of biologists used photos and MRI scans to measure the faces of almost 10,000 people of European descent. The researchers then found that six locations in people's DNA affected characteristics such as the distance between the eyes and the length of the nose.
The genes generally only had small effects. The gene with greatest effect, TP63, was associated with the eyes sitting just 9 millimeters closer together on the face, the New Scientist reported.
"It's a start," geneticist Manfred Kayser told the New Scientist. "But we are far away from predicting what someone's face looks like." Kayser works at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and led the new research.
Although the research is far from practical use, scientists are explicitly thinking of it as a step toward reconstructive forensics. The Netherlands Forensic Institute partially funded the work.
Other research on its way will add to Kayser's findings. The New Scientist also talked with Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University, who is working on a similar study that examines 7,000 measurements of the face in people of both European and Asian descent.
Kayser's study appears in the journal PLOS Genetics.