A significant advance in forensic investigation means that police can reconstruct a large number of a suspect’s physical characteristics from a tiny drop of blood left at a crime scene.
The breakthrough means that police can build a physical profile to create a photofit of the subject, using the DNA to tell their height, eye colour, hair colour, race and age. Furthermore it can even establish the distance between their eyes and the height, width and length of their nose by analysing genes that control the positioning of ‘landmarks’ affecting facial appearance.
Dr Denise Syndercombe-Court, a forensic genetics expert at King’s College London, said: “Investigators will be able to generate a DNA photo detailing a suspect’s characteristics, biological age and geographical ancestry.”
She suggested it is invaluable in narrowing down the number of suspects and eliminating the innocent. She added: “We are now in the moment of glimpsing a brilliant new future of DNA analysis.”
Forensic science with no witnesses
The introduction of this method also means that an image of a suspect’s physical appearance can be developed without witnesses. Professor Manfred Kayser in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics, said: “You wouldn’t have the problems with eye witnesses misremembering what had happened, or displaying biased recollection. It would be more accurate.”
However, this new method surely will not be able to take into account any physical features such as scars, dyed hair, facial tattoos or crooked noses from breaks without the aid of witnesses.
The tests cost £700 and can take up to ten days to analyse. Previously investigators would have to match genetic material to records of criminals already on the national database but this innovation will produce a photofit describing the offender without the need for such records.
Designer baby controversy
The issue may cause controversy as DNA Ethics Group study it, considering how the use of such data effects the balance of the rights of individuals along with the rights of the state. But researchers say that they will only look at the physical characteristics the data presents and not sensitive/private data such as if a person has particular diseases or medical conditions.
The technique has been made possible thanks to the Human Genome Project, which identified all the genes in human DNA, allowing scientists to single out the sequences that determine individual characteristics.
Within the next two years academics and private companies hope to have perfected what they consider the ‘next generation’ of sequencing, speeding up analysis, increasing accuracy and bringing down the general cost.
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