GENES THAT DETERMINE FACIAL FEATURES IDENTIFIED
At the University of Leuven in Belgium, a team of researchers has identified a set of 15 genes that they believe determine our facial features. This research could benefit surgeons attempting to reconstruct the faces of burns and trauma patients, archaeologists who’ve unearthed human remains, and police forensic investigators who only have DNA evidence to identify victims.
In the past, scientists selected specific features, such as the distance between the eyes or the width of the mouth, then looked for a connection between these features and the genes. A number of genes have been found using this method, but it’s limited by the fact that only a small set of features are tested.
In the new study, the researchers used a database of DNA along with 3D images of subjects’ faces, which were automatically subdivided into small segments. By comparing similar facial features to similar stretches of DNA, they were able to determine the genes responsible for determining the shape of several facial features. Using this method, the scientists were able to identify 15 locations in our DNA that are active while our faces are developing in the womb. Of these 15 genes, 7 are linked to shaping the nose.
“A skull doesn’t contain any traces of the nose, which only consists of soft tissue and cartilage. Therefore, when forensic scientists want to reconstruct a face on the basis of a skull, the nose is the main obstacle,” said the University of Leuven’s Dr Peter Claes. “If the skull also yields DNA, it would become much easier in the future to determine the shape of the nose.”
The team now plan to further refine their work, drawing on larger databases of DNA and facial images.
A better grasp of how DNA shapes our faces would benefit archaeologists, surgeons and forensic scientists