FIFTEEN genes that determine facial features have been identified for the first time using a novel method that matches 3D images of faces to the corresponding DNA. The study, conducted by researchers from KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, in collaboration with other institutions, could potentially aid skull and facial reconstructive surgery and the technique may be used in the future to provide further insights into neurodegenerative disorders.
The team were able to identify 15 genes responsible for specific facial characteristics by utilising a database with 3D images of faces and the corresponding DNA of each of the individuals. The faces were subdivided into smaller modules and the researchers examined whether any of these modules were matched by locations in the DNA.
From this they also discovered that the 15 genetic variants they identified are linked with regions of the genome that effect the expression of genes. The team outlined how this information could be used to aid facial reconstructive surgery; 7 of the 15 genes are linked to the nose, which is the main obstacle to doctors attempting to reconstruct a face on the basis of a skull.
Understanding of Neurodegenerative Disorders
They also believe the scope of the method could be broadened in the future to gain a greater understanding of the working of the brain as well as neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Lead author Dr Peter Claes, KU Leuven, stated: “With the same novel technology used in this study, we can also link other medical images, such as brain scans, to genes. In the long-term, this could provide genetic insight into the shape and functioning of our brain, as well as in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
The team caution that there is still a long way to go before they can identify all the genes that determine the make-up of a face and be able to predict a correct and complete face on the basis of DNA. The universities involved will now continue the research with larger databases.
James Coker, Reporter
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