An international team of researchers has pinpointed 15 different genes that determine an individual’s facial features. This isn’t the first time that scientists focused on what makes our faces look the way they do. Other similar endeavors explored several key features such as a person’s eyes or the width of their mouth, identifying the genes that influence them in the process.
In the new study, conducted by KU Leuven in collaboration with universities of Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Stanford, researchers attempted a new approach in trying to determine which genes determine facial features. The team put together a database with 3D images of faces, which was then coupled with the respective individual’s full genome. Each face was sub-divided into smaller modules, which were then examined for any link with the locations in the DNA.
“This modular division technique made it possible for the first time to check for an unprecedented number of facial features,” said Peter Claes lead author of the study and a researcher at KU Leuven in Belgium.
Claes and his team were able to detect 15 locations in the DNA that are active on the human face when it develops in the womb. More so, they claim that 7 out of the 15 genes are linked to the development of the nose. Claes notes that a skull doesn’t contain any traces of the nose, as it only consists of soft tissue and cartilage. He then pointed to the obstacles that forensic scientists encounter, when trying to reconstruct a face with only a skull as a point of reference.
While the new approach would still not allow scientists to predict a complete and accurate face on the basis of DNA yet, it may help doctors in reconstructive surgery of the skull and face.
In addition, the method could allow forensic scientists to use the DNA retrieved from a crime scene and sketch the perpetrator’s face.
The study was published in the journal, Nature Genetics.
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