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15 new genes found that shape the face

Researchers from KU Leuven and the universities of Pittsburgh, Stanford and Penn State have identified fifteen genes that determine our facial features. The scientists were able to identify fifteen locations in our DNA. “The Stanford colleagues discovered that the genes for these facial features are already active during the development of our face in the womb. We also discovered that different variants of those genes are related to when, where and how strongly those genes express themselves.” Seven of the fifteen identified genes have to do with the nose, which is good news, says Claes. “With a skull, of course, there is nothing left of the nose, because it consists of soft tissue and cartilage. When forensic investigators want to reconstruct a face from a skull, the nose is the major stumbling block. If the skull still yields DNA, it could become easier in the future to determine the shape of the nose.”

The four research centers will continue their research with even larger databases. Claes warns:“That does not mean that tomorrow we will be able to predict a correct and complete face based on DNA. We still don't know all the genes that determine our face. In addition, our age, environment and lifestyle also influence the appearance of our face.” Claes, who is specialized in computational image analysis, sees other future perspectives:“With the same new technology, we can also link other medical images, such as brain scans, to genes. In time, this would provide genetic insight into the shape and function of our brains, as well as into neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's.”