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DNA Could Create Mugshots To Snare Criminals
DNA left at a crime scene could soon be used to produce a mugshot of the offender that would be far more accurate than the current e-fits.
The discovery could also be used to provide the identity of fathers in paternity cases, or to visualise our remote ancestors from fossil DNA.
Researchers in the US identified 20 genes that had "significant effects" on what a face looks like.
They did this by identifying known mutations that cause deformations of the face and head.
Different versions of the genes affected features including the lips, the shape and make-up of bones around the eyes and the shape of the face and skull.
"We use DNA to match to an individual or identify an individual, but you can get so much more from DNA," lead scientist Professor Mark Shriver, from Pennsylvania State University, said.
"Currently we can't go from DNA to a face, or from a face to DNA, but it should be possible."
The scientists wrote in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics: "Such predictive modelling could be forensically useful; for example, DNA left at crime scenes could be tested and faces predicted in order to help to narrow the pool of potential suspects.
"Further, our methods could be used to predict the facial features of descendants, deceased ancestors, and even extinct human species."
The team created a model which used a range of physical face shapes from people of mixed West African and European ancestry from the US, Brazil and Cape Verde.
3D images were then made and measurements were taken by using thousands of point co-ordinates on grids over the faces.
They then determined the relationship between facial differences and the effects of gender, ethnic ancestry and individual gene variants.