Scientists Spot 5 Genes That Help Shape Faces

THURSDAY Sept. 13, 2012 -- The genetics behind the unique construction of each human face just got a little clearer, with a new Dutch study pinpointing five genes responsible for human facial shapes.

"These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology," according to study author Manfred Kayser of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. His team published the findings Sept. 13 in the journal Public Library of Science.

A look at any pair of identical and non-identical twins suggests that genes are key to the appearance of the human face. However, according to a news release from the journal, scientists have known little about the genetics of facial construction.

Using head MRIs together with portrait photographs, Kayser's team mapped the facial landmarks and estimated facial distances in nearly 10,000 people. They also identified the DNA variants involved in the participants' facial shapes.

Two of the genes uncovered in the study have not been previously linked to the forms and structure of people's faces.

"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," Kayser speculated in the news release. "We already can predict from DNA certain eye and hair colors with quite high accuracies."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on genetics.

Posted: September 2012


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