Researchers Discover Genes that Shape our Face

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Researchers have identified fifteen facial features-determining genes, according to an article published in Nature Genetics journal on February 19, 2018.

A team of researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the universities of Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Penn State (U.S.) determined genes that represent the facial features of humans. They predict that this discovery could help doctors to use DNA for skull and facial reconstructive surgery. As it could also help forensic examiners and historians.

Peter Claes, lead author said “Our search doesn’t focus on specific traits. My colleagues from Pittsburgh and Penn State each provided a database with 3D images of faces and the corresponding DNA of these people. Each face was automatically subdivided into smaller modules. Next, we examined whether any locations in the DNA matched these modules. This modular division technique made it possible for the first time to check for an unprecedented number of facial features.”

The team successfully identified fifteen locations in human DNA and discovered that when the human face develops in the womb, genomic loci linked to these modular facial features are active. “Furthermore, we also discovered that different genetic variants identified in the study are associated with regions of the genome that influence when, where and how much genes are expressed,” said Joanna Wysocka.

Out of the DNA discovered, seven are linked to the nose. Peter Claes said “A skull doesn’t contain any traces of the nose, which only consists of soft tissue and cartilage. Therefore, when forensic scientists want to reconstruct a face on the basis of a skull, the nose is the main obstacle. If the skull also yields DNA, it would become much easier in the future to determine the shape of the nose.”

This development still requires to be tested on a large scale database. In turn, this would eventually help provide genetic insights into the shape and functioning of the human brain, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


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