Five Genes That Determine Facial Shapes Discovered
September 14, 2012

Five Genes That Determine Facial Shapes Discovered

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

If you have ever stared at yourself in the bathroom mirror wondering why your face looks the way it does, then this story is for you.

Researchers have discovered five genes that determine human facial shapes, and understanding these genes could one day provide valuable data about a person´s appearance, relying on DNA alone; in fact it could prove very valuable for forensics.

Previously, there has been no known information about the genetic role in facial shape in humans. But now, we have the “exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology,” said lead study author Manfred Kayser, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

“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,” he noted.

In the study, published in the Public Library of Science´s journal PLoS Genetics, Kayser and colleagues studied nearly 10,000 individuals, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their heads together with portrait photographs to map facial features, from which facial distances were estimated. They then conducted a genome-wide association (GWA) study designed to search for small genetic variances that occur more frequently in people with particular facial types.

Using these methods, the team was able to discern five separate genes associated with facial shapes: PRDM16, PAX3, TP63, C5orf50, and COL17A1.

Three of the five genes identified have been implicated previously by other approaches in vertebrate craniofacial development and disease. Of the three previously identified genes, one was reported to be involved in facial morphology in a GWA study on children published earlier this year. The remaining two genes could represent completely new genetic marker discoveries in regards to facial development.

While the implications could be far-reaching, Kayser acknowledges that full DNA-to-portrait mapping is still in the preliminary stages and remains only a distant prospect. However, he added, science can already “predict from DNA certain eye and hair colors with quite high accuracies,” and with other advances made in DNA studies, forensics could have a trove of powerful new DNA tools at its disposal.

This study was carried out on behalf of the International Visible Trait Genetics (VisiGen) Consortium.