January 5, 2011

DNA Predicts Hair Color With Great Accuracy: Study

A new study published Tuesday reveals that an increasing number of appearance traits, including hair color, are extractable from DNA. 

The findings will likely provide powerful benefits to forensic scientists and law enforcement officials.

The research showed that on the basis of DNA information, it is possible to determine with an accuracy of more than 90 percent whether a person has red hair or black hair, and with an accuracy of more than 80 percent whether a person's hair color is blond or brown.

The new DNA approach even allows differentiating hair colors that are similar, for instance, between red and reddish blond, or between blond and dark blond hair.

The necessary DNA can be obtained from blood, sperm, saliva or other biological materials relevant in forensic casework.

"That we are now making it possible to predict different hair colors from DNA represents a major breakthrough because, so far, only red hair color, which is rare, could be estimated from DNA," said Professor Manfred Kayser, Chair of the Department of Forensic Molecular Biology at Erasmus MC, who led the study.

"For our research we made use of the DNA and hair color information of hundreds of Europeans and investigated genes previously known to influence the differences in hair color. We identified 13 "ËœDNA markers' from 11 genes that are informative to predict a person's hair color," he said.

"This research lays the scientific basis for the development of a DNA test for hair color prediction," said Professor Ate Kloosterman of the Department of Human Biological Traces at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), who took part in the study.

"A validated DNA test system for hair color shall become available for forensic research in the not too distant future," he said.

The researchers have previously published articles on predicting eye color and estimating age on the basis of DNA material.  Such objective information can then be used to refine the description of an unknown, but wanted, person.

"This new development results in an important expansion of the future DNA toolkit used by forensic investigators to track down unknown offenders," Kloosterman said.

Their findings were published Tuesday in the Springer journal Human Genetics. 


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