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20-March-2014 by Peter Aldhous - New Scientist
A murder has been committed, and all the cops have to go on is a trace of DNA left at the scene. It doesn't match any profile in databases of known criminals, and the trail goes cold. But what if the police could issue a wanted poster based on a realistic "photofit" likeness built from that DNA?
Not if, but when, claim researchers who have developed a method for determining how our genes influence facial shape. ... It's already possible to make some inferences about the appearances of crime suspects from DNA, including their racial ancestry and some shades of hair colour. And in 2012, a team in the Netherlands identified five genetic variants with detectable effects on facial shape.
But recently, a team led by population geneticist Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University and imaging specialist Peter Claes of the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) in Belgium used a stereoscopic camera to capture 3D images of almost 600 volunteers from populations with mixed European and West African ancestry. ...
They then created a large mesh to determine how racial and gender genes impact a person’s face. Volunteers were also tested for genetic variants that could lead to different facial abnormalities, leaving the researches with 20 definite genetic variants that connect to specific facial shapes.
Reconstructions based on these variants alone aren't yet ready for routine use by crime labs, the researchers admit. ... The next step is to run larger studies in different populations to confirm that the variants found so far are statistically reliable. The researchers also plan to use the method to discover further genetic variants that affect facial structure. "I believe that in five to 10 years' time, we will be able to computationally predict a face," says Claes.
To get a sense of the method's current power, New Scientist asked Claes and Shriver to predict the appearance of a young woman based on a scan of her DNA performed by the Californian company 23andMe. You can judge for yourself how closely their prediction resembles former New Scientist reporter Sara Reardon in the photos to the right.
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