DNA Phenotyping May Put a Name to Faceless Criminals

Scientists have recently discovered a way to predict facial features using a sample of DNA. The new technology, called DNA phenotyping, is used by law enforcement officials to 'reverse engineer' physical characteristics and as such, to catch a potential criminal.

DNA phenotyping, or the process of building a face from genetic information is—perhaps surprisingly—not complicated. First, forensic scientists collect DNA evidence from a crime scene. They send the evidence to a DNA analyzation lab, where researchers scan millions of genetic markers. Then, researchers compare the DNA from the crime scene to a database containing thousands of 3D facial scans and DNA samples. Next, computerized algorithms begin to predict traits such as skin, hair, and eye color.

These predictions narrow down the possible physical traits of the subject. Then, the algorithms analyze facial measurements, such as skull width and lip size, using information gathered from the DNA markers. After taking into consideration ancestry, face structure, and other features, a 3D face is generated from all of this preferred genetic information. Researchers can then modify the model to reflect various features for the same subject, such as different ages, weights, and hairstyles.

DNA phenotyping is a groundbreaking discovery, and it has already proven effective. For example, consider the case of the American serial killer dubbed the “Lake Charles killer,” who murdered 11 to 25 people anonymously yet left forensic specialists puzzled and without answers. With DNA phenotyping, scientists were able to generate a face from the DNA of the Lake Charles killer and identify him.

Researchers and law enforcement officers alike are hopeful that this new technology will continue to provide answers, help solve cases once thought unsolvable, and deliver those in the wrong to justice.

[Source: National Geographic]