The genes researchers found only have small effects, and are only linked with a limited number of features.
One day, police may be able to reconstruct the shape of a suspect’s face from their DNA. Thanks to identification of five genes that contribute to facial shape and features that possibility is getting closer.
DNA tests for predicting eye, hair and skin colour are currently available or under development, so identification of genes linked with facial features could help create a more detailed “Identi-Kit” picture purely from someone’s DNA. But the researchers caution that the genes they found only have small effects, and are only linked with a limited number of features, limiting their use until more genes of relevance are found.
“It’s a start,” says Manfred Kayser from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “But we are far away from predicting what someone’s face looks like.”
Kayser and his colleagues analysed DNA from 10,000 Europeans by examining nine specific facial “landmarks” in three-dimensional MRI scans of their heads, and analysing a further eight landmarks in portrait photographs of their faces. But the genes identified only had small effects. For example, the variant with the biggest effect, in a gene called TP63, was linked to the gap between the centres of each eye socket being narrower by just 9 millimetres.
Other identified genes influenced the distance from the eyes to the bridge of the nose, the length of the nose, and the facial width between cheekbones.
“The data in this paper is useful but incremental” comments Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey. He says his own, as yet unpublished, study of more than 7000 facial “landmarks” promises to yield more clues, not least because it includes faces of Africans as well as Caucasians.
Via New Scientist