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The Face of It

Alongside its forensic genetic genealogy services, Parabon NanoLabs has also been offering DNA phenotyping services that try to reconstruct what someone looks like based on their genetic profile to law enforcement, Slate reports.

Though genetic genealogy for law enforcement has taken off — leading to high-profile arrests in, for instance, the Golden State Killer Case — DNA phenotyping has lagged, it notes. In 2015, Parabon NanoLabs said its Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service could predict bio-geographic ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape, data that cold then be used to develop a sketch. The approach has been used in a few cases to developed wanted posters, including in a 1992 murder, a serial rapist case, and in a murder in Texas.

But as Slate notes, though DNA phenotyping may be able to determine a person's eye, hair, and skin color, it likely is less accurate at determining face shape. It adds that while researchers have begun to uncover genes linked to certain features, they don't yet understand the role of many of these genes. Further, it adds that people's facial features change as they age.

The American Civil Liberties Union, it adds, has warned against its use. "The concern we have with [facial] phenotyping is that it's not really based on sound science," Jay Stanley, an ACLU senior policy analyst, tells Slate.