(NaturalNews) Forensic scientists are working on a way to reconstruct a person's face based on their DNA, allowing police to identify people more effectively from something as simple as a piece of hair or flake of skin, according to research presented at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.
Currently, researchers can compare DNA samples taken from suspects with those found at a crime scene to help secure convictions, but this is only useful if authorities already have a suspect.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University are hoping to take this ability one step further with the field of "forensic molecular photofitting," which uses knowledge about how certain genes influence skin pigmentation, facial structure and other characteristics that lead to the individual appearance of a person's face. Geneticists already know enough to identify a number of specific traits, although full facial mapping is still a ways off.
"We know enough to estimate hair color, eye color, the presence of moles, skin color, hair texture, body size -- even if someone's ear wax is wet or dry," said researcher Mark Shriver. "We can even determine a whole host of behavioral traits like handedness -- is someone left- or right-handed -- all of which can help police narrow down the suspect they're looking for."
It's still much easier to identify certain general characteristics -- such as skin pigmentation -- than others. It was this ability to determine skin color from DNA that led Louisiana police to shift their search for a Baton Rouge serial killer from a white man, who witnesses had reported seeing, to a black man. Eventually a black man, Derek Todd Lee, was arrested and convicted.
Shriver hopes to make this investigative ability even more powerful. He believes that it would only take information from a total of 1,000 genes -- "maybe 500 facial markers and 500 ancestry markers" -- to construct an accurate picture of a person's face.
"We're working with facial images to better understand which genes determine which superficial traits," he said.