Some police departments are now using DNA to try and sketch what unidentifiable crime victims might have looked like in a bid to get them identified and their potential killers caught. But critics say that's not a great idea, the New York Times reports.
In a recent case, the NYPD used a test from pharmaceutical company Parabon NanoLabs to predict what the face of a woman named Monique, whose body parts had been found in a park, might look like. Phenotyping tests showed Monique to be primarily of sub-Saharan African descent, and analysts used her sex and ancestry to create a generic sketch of a face from a database of demographic information, the Times reports.
But critics say there's a lack of peer-reviewed science behind the technology of creating whole faces out of general phenotypic information, and that even the DNA collection process for criminal investigation is susceptible to bias and error, the article adds.
Critics say the company is promising too much. Columbia's Yaniv Erlich says the whole idea of predicting faces based on phenotyping verges on "science fiction," the Times notes. "Ancestry? Sure, that's fairly simple. Kinship, too. Phenotyping with faces? Forget about it," he tells the paper.
Erlich recently had a similar argument with Craig Venter after Venter's Human Longevity published a paper saying it could predict physical traits from genome data well enough to identify anonymous individuals in the absence of other information.
But the controversy doesn't seem to be slowing down New York's use of DNA in criminal investigations, the Times says. The state Commission on Forensic Science adopted guidelines for familial testing that took effect Wednesday.