UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- DNA can already tell us the sex and ancestry of unknown individuals, but now an international team of researchers is beginning to connect genetics with facial features, degrees of femininity and racial admixture.
"By jointly modeling sex, genomic ancestry and genotype, the independent effects of particular alleles on facial features can be uncovered," the researchers state today (Mar. 20) in PLOS Genetics. They add that "by simultaneously modeling facial shape variation as a function of sex and genomic ancestry along with genetic markers in craniofacial candidate genes, the effects of sex and ancestry can be removed from the model thereby providing the ability to extract the effects of individual genes."
In essence, by including sex and racial admixture, researchers can learn about how certain genes and their variations influence the shape of the face and its features.
"We use DNA to match to an individual or identify an individual, but you can get so much more from DNA," said Mark D. Shriver, professor of anthropology, Penn State. "Currently we can't go from DNA to a face or from a face to DNA, but it should be possible."
The researchers looked at both actual physical face shape and genetic markers of face shape. They then validated their study by asking individuals to look at faces and determine four things. Is this face male or female? How feminine is it? What proportion of this person is West African? What group would you put this person in, Black African or African-American; White, European or European-American; or Mixed?