Penn State Develops 3D Model Linking Facial Features to DNA

Researchers at Penn State have developed a three-dimensional (3D) model that illustrates connections between the shape of the human face and an individual's DNA. According to the university website, while DNA can tell researchers the sex and ancestry of individuals, now genetics and facial features can be connected.

According to a report in a Public Library of Science (PLOS) journal, Genetics, the researchers reported that in essence, by including sex and racial admixture, they could learn about how certain genes and their variations influence the shape of the face and its features. The researchers looked at actual physical face shape and genetic markers of face shape, then validated their study by asking individuals to look at faces and determine: Is this face male or female? How feminine is it? What portion of this person is West African? What group would you put this person in: Black African or African-American? White, European or European-American? or Mixed?

To look at the physical face shape, researchers used various worldwide populations, placed a grid on 3D images of the subjects' faces, and measured the spatial coordinates of the grid points. They then used statistics to determine the relationship between variations in the faces and the effects of sex, genomic ancestry and genes that affect the shape of the head and face. To identify these genes, the researchers looked at known genetic mutations that cause facial and cranial deformation since these genes in their normal variations might also affect the face and head.

Eventually, the researchers think they could apply this model to visualize Homo sapiens' ancestors by looking at DNA, or law enforcement might potentially create a "mug shot" from DNA to identify both victims and criminals. These predictive models could be envisioned to apply to personal care products, as topical treatments to impact facial characteristics via the trending field of epigenetics are developed.

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