DNA breakthroughs could provide faces to faceless
What can you learn from DNA?
Applications for discovering and analyzing the building blocks of life are growing faster than ever and providing new options for everyone from doctors to criminal investigators.
Inside a DNA profile is the recipe for making a person. When it comes to this recipe 98% of it is the same for every human.
“Two percent of your DNA is different and that difference, that's the part of the DNA we look at to see what makes you unique and what makes me unique,” explained Dr. Patrick Gaffney, the head of the Genomics and Data Sciences Division for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
The differences found inside the two percent of a person’s DNA can be compared to the hundreds of thousands of DNA samples that have already been analyzed. Scientists can compare the individual sequences in a DNA profile to those that have similar structures to find features.
“We can look at sequences from 500,000 people with blonde hair and blue eyes and say these people seem to have this pattern,” Dr. Gaffney told FOX 25, “So we can take that information and apply it to another person and say this person is likely to have blonde hair and blue eyes based on their match of our population patterns.”
Some companies are taking it further, by analyzing the DNA differences to determine facial features and creating portraits from nothing more than a DNA profile.
What are the applications of this new technology?
Suspects could be pictured when there are no eye witnesses. Law enforcement could give faces for the public to identify when there are only remains found.
Perhaps the most notable case where this technology could be applied would be providing a face to the yet unknown 169th person who died in the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995.
The unknown DNA profile sample sat hidden for more than 20 years until revealed by a Washington Times/Fox 25 Investigation. The person is either another victim or another accomplice to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.
While the technology was not available in the 1990's, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner held onto the profile that did not match any of the known victims and kept a sample from the unidentified leg left from the bomb site.
At the very least, an analysis now of the DNA profile could tell us traits such as ethnicity, hair color, or eye color.
“Even then the composite information that comes from these variants work, like reconstructing facial features...it's an inexact science at this time,” Dr. Gaffney said.
Forensic examiners also warn that a composite sketch from DNA also doesn't take into account cosmetic changes which would keep people from identifying a person.
Still Gaffney says as more work is done with DNA, scientists are able to make more accurate predictions based on population studies. This kind of analysis could also lead to precision medicines and treatments in addition to aiding in forensics.
“You're going to start seeing improvements in the accuracy of these technologies,” Gaffney said.