Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Face You Leave Behind

This post has been updated to clarify who generated the images for the New York Times.

A Virginia-based company says it can predict what a person looks like from even a small sample of DNA, a boon, it adds, for law enforcement.

In a press release, Parabon NanoLabs says its Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service can predict bio-geographic ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape and use that information to create a composite image.

The company is focusing its service toward police departments and forensic analyses. It says it is being used in lead generation, narrowing suspect lists, and identifying unknown remains. 

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that a South Carolina police department was using the service to try to identify a suspect in a stalled murder case. The Times noted that the composite image did generate a few leads, though none panned out.

Hong Kong Cleanup has also used the service to shame litterbugs by generating images of people based on DNA left behind on improperly disposed trash, Discover's D-brief blog said last month.

In a pseudo-experiment, some Times staffers gave genetic material to an academic group exploring such DNA phenotyping and asked their colleagues to try to match the images to their co-workers. No one could identify one staffer, while 10 people were able to match another to the real person.