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Where the Whorls Come From

The genes that control limb development may also give people their fingerprint patterns, Nature reports.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted a genome-wide association study of the whorls, loops, and arches of fingerprints. As they report in Cell this week, they homed in on 18 genetic loci associated with fingerprint types within a Han Chinese cohort and, after expanding their analysis to include a European cohort, found a total 43 fingerprint-linked genetic loci.

Many of these loci were situated near genes involved in limb development pathways, including EVI1, which has a known role in embryonic limb development. Tamping down the expression of this gene in mice led the mice to have unusual ridge patterns on their toes, bolstering the idea that limb development genes may also influence fingerprints. At the same time, the researchers note that fingerprint patterns are also genetically correlated with finger length.

"We don't know exactly how the genes shape fingerprint patterns, but it could be determined by the amount of strength from growth that's put on an embryonic tissue called volar pads that plays an important role in the formation of different patterns of fingerprint," co-first author Jinxi Li from Fudan University says in a statement.