Researchers have announced that it will soon be possible to determine which genes are responsible for shape of human faces. The news is being welcomed by victims of accident and disfiguration, with the hope that such information may one day be used to reconstruct facial appearance based on an individual’s DNA.
The study was published in the journal Plos Genetics by a team from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. The study examined the the genealogical makeup of almost 10,000 individuals. The study’s lead author Manfred Kayser has said; “These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology. “Perhaps some time it will be possible to draw a phantom portrait of a person solely from his or her DNA left behind, which provides interesting applications such as in forensics.” The study discovered five specific genes which they have linked to the development of facial form.
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (the MRI machine) to compare individuals’ underlying bone structure to portrait photographs, allowing the team to generate a sort of map of facial landmarks and to estimate the distances between those facial landmarks. The study then examined the variations in the genomes of those individuals with characteristic facial types. The team was thereby able to identify the five genes that are associated with facial types; PRDM16, PAX3, TP63, C5orf50, and COL17A1.
While the discovery of the genes means that facial type may be estimated, it does not mean that an entire DNA-to-portrait map will soon be available. Scientists say that much research must be done to assess the impact of this discovery.