Reconstructing human appearance from DNA

Forensic biologists think that one day they may be able to construct the physical characteristics of a criminal from DNA left behind at the scene.

Police sketch artists might soon be trading in the pencil and paper for a genetics lab. Forensic biologists say they may soon be able to reconstruct a criminal’s profile from the DNA they leave at a crime scene.

This would potentially render DNA databases obsolete, said molecular biologist Manfred Kayser from Erasmus MC in Rotterdam in his keynote address at the 20th International Symposium of Forensic Science, in Sydney in September.

This kind of approach could revolutionise police work. Particularly in relation to so called ‘cold-cases’, where the DNA sample does not match a suspect’s profile or that of any criminal in a DNA database, Kayser said.

Gender and pigmentation

“We don’t yet know if it’s possible to find accurate genetic markers for individual specific traits [such as facial dimensions] … if we do, it could eventually mean that criminal databases won’t be needed. For now that’s of course science fiction,” Kayser told the Sydney audience.

Most physical characteristics are complex traits, defined by several interacting genes and possibly environmental factors too. Yet, Kayser and others in the have already identified several DNA markers that determine various physical characteristics, including gender, hair colour, eye colour have already been discovered.

The simplest characteristic to determine with a DNA sample of unknown human origin is gender. The gene for amelogenin (a protein involved in tooth development) can be used in sex determination of samples, because the length of the gene is different on the X chromosome to the Y chromosome. This is a relatively robust, but not foolproof, gender test, according to Kayser.

Read more here Reconstructing human appearance from DNA | COSMOS magazine.

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