Researchers scan DNA to learn how facial features form


THE CONVERSATION - You might think it’s rather obvious that your facial appearance is determined by your genes. Just look in the family photo album and observe the same nose, eyes or chin on your grandparents, cousins and uncles and aunts. Perhaps you have seen or know someone with a genetic syndrome—that often results from a damaging alteration to one or more genes—and noticed the often distinctive facial features.

You may be surprised to learn that until very recently, geneticists had virtually no understanding of which parts of our DNA were linked to even the most basic aspects of facial appearance. This gap in our knowledge was particularly galling since facial appearance plays such an important role in basic human interactions. The availability of large data sets combining genetic information with facial images that can be measured has rapidly advanced the pace of discovery.

So, what do we know about the genetics of facial appearance? Can we reliably predict a person’s face from their DNA? What are the implications for health and disease? Research by Pitt anthropologist Seth M. Weinberg and human geneticist John R. Shaffer focuses on uncovering the biological factors that underlie the similarities and differences in facial appearance among humans.

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