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Face shape gene discoveries may lead to DNA photofits

17 September 2012
Appeared in BioNews 673

Five gene that determine a person’s facial shape have been identified, in a study of almost 10,000 Europeans.

'These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology', said Professor Manfred Kayser from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, who led the study.

Researchers in the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Canada and Australia used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of people's heads and portrait photographs to analyze nine facial features, including the position of the cheekbones, distance between the eyes, and the height, width, and length of the nose. The genomes of the participants were then analysed for variations in their genes associated with these features. Results identified five genes that control face shape.

'Perhaps sometime it will be possible to draw a phantom portrait of a person solely from his or her DNA, which provides interesting applications such as in forensics', says Professor Kayser.

More genes are likely to be involved in regulating face shape and further studies will be required for their identification. Professor Kayser states: 'We only found five genes because we had to limit the scope of our study [to nine facial features]. We expect there are many more. This is a simplification - but we had to start somewhere'.

Dr Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University in the USA, who was not involved in the study, told New Scientist that 'the data in this paper is useful but incremental'. He added that his own, currently unpublished, study will report a study of over 7,000 facial features and provide more information on the genetics of facial shape by including participants of African as well as Caucasian descent.

Using DNA to construct a complete image of a person’s face shape, such that would be useful in forensics, will take many more years. 'It is a very ambitious goal. But in principle it should be possible. We know the more genes you share the more alike you are – identical twins are very alike. It just depends how difficult it is to find the genes', says Professor Kayser.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
A Genome-Wide Association Study Identifies Five Loci Influencing Facial Morphology in Europeans
PLOS Genetics |  13 September 2012
DNA science that may make photofits a thing of the past
Independent |  14 September 2012
Genes for face shape identified
BBC News |  13 September 2012
Looking at you: Face genes identified
EurekAlert! (press release) |  13 September 2012
Police could create image of suspect's face from DNA
New Scientist |  14 September 2012
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