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DNA Mugshots

A group of scientists studying genes and SNPs involved in giving human faces their shapes says in a new PLOS Genetics paper that DNA could one day be used to create facial models, or DNA-based mugshots, from samples at crime scenes.

The researchers, led by Penn State University anthropologist Mark Shriver, say they have worked up a computer program that can translate genes and SNPs into crude three-dimensional models of faces, based on a DNA sample.

His group used high-res images of nearly 600 people in the US, Brazil, and Cape Verde to create a grid of more than 7,000 data points related to facial shape and then compared these images to the volunteer's genomes to try to link SNPs to specific features, Nature reports.

They found 24 SNPs spread across 20 genes that were "significantly associated with facial shape," and they fed the genetic data into their computer modelling program to create predictive 3-D facial models, Nature writes.

While the proposition that these tools could be used to help forensics investigators create DNA-based 'mugshots' may be the application most likely to pop up on CSI: MIAMI, the authors say their methods could be used to predict facial features of descendants, deceased ancestors, and even extinct human species.