In the future, if someone leaves just one hair at the crime scene, the CSI might be able to get the whole picture of the offender based on nothing but their genetic material.
A promising US – Belgian technology, which may be added to the “arsenal” of forensic investigators in the near future, allows recreating a three-dimensional model of the face of a person only from the traces of genetic material (DNA).
Although the technique is still at an early stage and allows creating portraits without great precision, in the future, when further improved, it could provide significant assistance to the police and other services and could possibly be used to recreate also the lost portraits of one’s distant ancestors.
The method is based on identifying genes affecting the formation of facial features in humans.
Researchers led by Professor Mark Shriver of the University of Pennsylvania managed to correlate specific DNA markers to specific facial features. So with the help of sophisticated statistical techniques, they began to create a database which with the help of computer software and genetic analysis can recreate the face of a person.
When the database and the algorithms of the program are enriched, the new technology will create three-dimensional portraits with greater accuracy than those created by “artists” of police based on (often deceptive) memories of eyewitnesses.
“At the moment, the authorities use DNA to identify a suspect, as long as they have a sample of their genetic material in advance to be compared with that found at the crime scene. The new technique could provide the general look of the suspect’s face, which could considerably narrow the circle of suspects,” said Shriver.
In addition, according to the researchers, the method could be used to model the facial features of one’s descendants or ancestors and even the extinct human species.
However, as more skeptical scientists point out, the reconstruction of the human face is much more difficult than it appears at first sight because there are individual genes that determine, for example, if someone’s nose is big or small.
The complex genetic factors are even more complicated by the influence of the environment, such as different climate, which also affects the shape of the face.
As stated by Manfred Kayser of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the new three-dimensional modeling technique based on the genetic material can be very useful in the future.
However, at present, it has little to offer in practice, since it has proven difficult to predict, based on the DNA analysis, even a simple feature such as body height.
So far, genetic analysis can predict with some reliability only the eye and skin color. However, Mark Shriver already collaborates with the police of Pennsylvania to test the technique in locating a serial rapist.
As he estimates, in five to ten years, “we will be able to accurately recreate a human face using the computer.”
The new technique was published in the journal «PLoS Genetics».
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