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Defining a Face: What Can DNA Phenotyping Really Tell Us About an Unknown Sample?

NCJ Number
Forensics Dated: August/September 2015 Pages: 16-17
Date Published
September 2015
2 pages
This article reviews the progress being made in using DNA phenotyping to construct the human source's facial features, and issues still to be addressed are discussed.
Efforts by geneticists to find the pieces of DNA that determine the features of a human face, from the shape of the nose to the spacing between the eyes, have intensified in recent years, and progress has been made. Scientists can now, with some certainty, use a strand of DNA to identify an individual's likely hair and eye color, as well as skin pigmentation and ancestry. Geneticist Mark Shriver at Penn State University has made what he describes as the "first effort at generating facial composites from DNA" with "preliminary but certainly promising results." This effort has relevance for DNA samples collected at crime scenes. They can be used to construct facial features of a suspect in a composite sketch to aid in an investigation. It also holds promise for using DNA from a body with decomposed or otherwise destroyed facial features, in order to reconstruct facial features for identification by those who may have known the decedent well. Although geneticists are cautious about over-selling the progress in creating an accurate physical image of an individual from his/her DNA, there is general agreement that the understanding of the underpinnings of phenotypes has improved significantly in the past decade. Scientists can now use DNA to determine with about 75 percent probability, an individual's ancestry and eye and hair color. 2 figures

Date Published: September 1, 2015