Everyone knows that DNA can be invaluable when it comes to solving crimes. But now genetic analysis can be used to generate incredibly precise mugshots of criminals, too.
Researchers have developed a new technique which uses DNA analysis to determine how genes influence facial shape. In turn, New Scientist reports, that's allowing them to generate images that predict what someone looks like from biological samples alone.
The team, from Pennsylvania State University and Catholic University of Leuven, imaged the faces of 600 participants using a stereoscopic camera to create 3D images. They then mapped the surfaces of each face with over 7,000 points, and used statistical analysis to assess how genes, sex and racial ancestry affected the shape of each face.
The team then tested each of the volunteers for 76 different genetic mutations known to cause facial abnormalities — which, the researchers figured, could all contain subtle variations that affect the shapes of all our faces. Indeed, they found 24 variants in 20 different genes that could be used to sensibly predict face shape.
In turn, they're able to create software that uses results of a genetic analysis to predict the shape of someone's face. While the technique still isn't well-enough developed to be used widely, New Scientist had the researchers generate the face of one of their writers from a DNA sample. The result, at the top of the page, is impressive.
The next step is to run larger studies in different populations to determine if the variants they have been using are broadly applicable. One suspects that's a matter of when, rather than if, it's dependable enough for real-world use. As well as fighting crime, such analysis should in theory make it possible to recreate the faces of our long-dead ancestors; we may, one day, stare into the eyes of early human with more accuracy than ever. [PLoS Genetics via New Scientist]
Images from Pennsylvania State University and New Scientist