Page URL:

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 He added that his own, currently unpublished, study will report a study of over 7,000 facial features and provide more information on the genetics of facial shape by including participants of African as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.

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
23 May 2016 - by Amina Yonis 
Researchers have discovered four genes that play a part in determining the shape of people's noses...
18 May 2015 - by Matthew Thomas 
The communities of microbes living in and on the human body – known as the microbiome – differ enough between people that researchers can use them to tell one person from another in a population of hundreds...
30 June 2014 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
Genetic disorders are often so rare that patients never receive a genetic, or even a clinical, diagnosis. Now an everyday photo may be all that's needed, using a newly developed computer program to analyse facial structures...
24 March 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
A new technique allows scientists to make guesses about what a person's face looks like, by examining just 20 genes in their DNA...
28 October 2013 - by Dr Naqash Raja 
Regions of the genome that do not code for proteins have been found to shape facial features, research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, has shown...
6 December 2010 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A recent disclosure by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables includes instructions to US diplomats to collect biometric information on 'key civilian and military officials' including 'fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans'....
14 December 2009 - by Gozde Zorlu 
A 'curly hair gene' has been discovered by scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), paving the way for advances in hair treatments and forensic science....
10 September 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
New software that analyses 3D scans of peoples' faces could speed up the diagnosis of rare genetic conditions, say UK researchers...
25 September 2006 - by Laura Goodall 
A developmental gene has been found to provide a connection between several genes involved in the formation of a cleft lip and palate. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, US found that when the gene SUMO1 is under-expressed and does not...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.