DNA science that may make photofits a thing of the past

 

Detectives tracking murderers, rapists and other criminals may be able to reconstruct their faces from a speck of blood left at the crime scene.

The significant advance in forensic investigation has been brought a step closer by scientists who believe they can produce portraits of suspects from a scrap of their DNA. The development would mean inaccurate photofits and unreliable eyewitness testimony would be consigned to history.

Researchers in the Netherlands working with photographs of individuals and MRI scans of their heads have identified genetic factors that contribute to facial appearance.

This technique could one day give police the capacity to reconstruct the faces of suspects as easily as their fingerprints and distribute them nationwide. This could deter offenders and lead to a fall in crime.

The researchers from the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam identified nine facial "landmarks", including the position of the cheekbones, the distance between the eyes, and the height, width and length of the nose. By analysing the genomes of almost 10,000 individuals, they found five genes that controlled the positioning of the nine landmarks which affected their facial appearance.

Professor Manfred Kayser, who led the study published in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics, said: "These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology. Perhaps sometime it will be possible to draw a phantom portrait of a person solely from his or her DNA, which provides interesting applications such as in forensics."

Professor Kayser said it was already possible to predict eye and hair colour by analysing samples of DNA. Reconstructing a portrait would be much more difficult.

"We only found five genes because we had to limit the scope of our study [to the nine landmark points]. We expect there are many more. This is a simplification – but we had to start somewhere. It is a very ambitious goal. But in principle it should be possible. We know the more genes you share the more alike you are – identical twins are very alike. It just depends how difficult it is to find the genes.

"It would mark the end of the photofit picture and be an improvement on eyewitness reports, which are not believed to be reliable. You wouldn't have the problems with eye witnesses misremembering what had happened, or displaying biased recollection. It would be more accurate." The study was carried out on behalf of the International Visible Trait Genetics Consortium, co-chaired by Professor Kayser, and was supported with funding from research organisations in Australia, Canada, and Europe including the UK. The aim of the consortium is to find the genetic factors that determine human visible traits.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England