As any fan of just about any TV cop show will tell you, it's possible to determine someone's sex and race based on a sample of their DNA. In the future, however, such samples may provide police with even more valuable information ... they might allow investigators to construct an image of the person's face.

The international team of scientists conducting the research has been studying how the genes that are used to determine a person's sex, genomic ancestry and genotype – all of which can already be obtained from their DNA – might be linked to their facial structure.

One of the ways in which the researchers have been doing this involves starting with a database of 3D facial scans of people from the US, Cape Verde and Brazil – all of the populations sampled were made up of individuals of mixed West African and European ancestry. The 3D computer models were overlaid with grids, that were used to numerically measure the overall shape of each face, along with size, shape and location of its various features.

By then using "statistical methods," it was possible to identify the relationship between those measured values, and the person's sex and genomic ancestry. Furthermore, the scientists have also determined which genes are responsible for the appearance of which parts of the face – they did so by first noting which genes were responsible for malformations of those same features.

Although more research is still required, it is hoped that ultimately it will be possible to create a rendering of a criminal or victim's face, based on nothing more than a DNA sample. The technology could also conceivably be used to approximate the appearance of parents using a a child's DNA, or even to get a better idea of what our prehistoric ancestors looked like.

Institutions involved in the study include Penn State University; Smurfitt Institute of Genetics, Dublin; Stanford University; HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Huntsville, Alabama; Universidade do Porto, Portugal; Universidade Católica de Brasília; University of Western Australia, Perth; Murdoch University, Perth; King Edward Memorial Hospital, Perth; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; and University of Connecticut, Storrs.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Source: Penn State