Genetic Mugshots: Using DNA to Fight Crime.

Research continues on the possibility of using DNA phenotyping to create an accurate depiction of a person’s face. While the idea that DNA can provide insight into certain physical features is not new, police departments are only just beginning to use this technology to aid in criminal investigations.  In time, it is hoped that perfecting this method will lead to more accurate facial renditions than those done by sketch-artists.

In order to make this a reality, researchers began by compiling a list of genetic mutations to try and understand what these genes control when not mutated. Next, people with very different facial structures were compared genetically to help pinpoint which genes were responsible for various differences. These same participants had their faces 3D scanned with over 7,000 areas per face plotted out, which was used along with genetic profiles to create a predictive algorithm.

At this point, while DNA can be used to determine hair, eye, and skin color, facial shape, and certain details such as whether a person has freckles or not, DNA can still only be used to explain 23% of differences in faces. Obstacles ahead are not just scientific, but also legal and ethical, as many see this as an invasion of privacy.