Crime scene investigators may soon have a new tool at their disposal. Scientists are currently perfecting technology that could one day reconstruct an image of your face using just your DNA, according to New Scientist.
The technology will be most useful for police looking to identify and catch a suspect. By leaving just a strand of DNA at a crime scene — a lock of hair, saliva on a cigarette butt, even dead skin cells — a suspect could have his or her face reconstructed and broadcasted for all to see. The technology is still in its infancy, but once realized, it could eventually make police sketch artists obsolete.
A recent study identifying five genes that contribute to facial shape and features has made the technology feasible. Manfred Kayser and colleagues from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, spearheaded the research. They analyzed DNA from 10,000 Europeans and compared the results against nine specific facial landmarks which were recorded using three-dimensional MRI scans of the subjects' heads. An additional eight facial landmarks were also analyzed using photographs of the subjects' faces.
Several key correlations between genes and facial features were identified. For instance, a gene called TP63 could predict the gap between the centers of each eye socket by a distance of about 9 millimeters. Other genes also predicted features like the distance from the eyes to the bridge of the nose, the length of the nose, and the facial width between cheekbones.
These findings, coupled with previous DNA tests already known to identify eye, hair and skin color, are a big step toward perfecting DNA facial reconstruction technology. Even so, scientists caution that the method is still a long way off from being able to reconstruct all the nuances of a person's face.
"It's a start," said Kayser. "But we are far away from predicting what someone's face looks like."
Further research is already underway, though. For instance, researcher Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey is currently working on a study looking at up to 7,000 facial landmarks, and his study involves a far more diverse set of subjects, not just the faces of Europeans.
Of course, before any of this technology can be utilized by police detectives, it will need to pass the necessary legal and ethical hurdles. But the technology may one day also benefit other fields of research. For instance, it could allow archeologists to gaze upon the faces of ancient peoples with startling accuracy. Or perhaps one day individuals researching their family trees could look upon their ancestors even when no photographs remain.
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