DNA test reveals perpetrators’ looks

Hair and eye colour of an unknown perpetrator can now be estimated from his or her DNA left behind at the crime scene. Erasmus MC scientists, in collaboration with their Polish and Greek colleagues, have developed the first DNA test system for hair colour prediction that also allows determination of most likely eye colour. Their findings have been published in the scientific journal Forensic Science International: Genetics.

Finding perpetrators unknown to the authorities remains a constant challenge for police investigation as usually they cannot be identified via DNA profiling. Being able to predict externally visible characteristics from DNA can provide useful leads for police investigation in suspect-less cases as it allows concentrating on the most likely appearance group out of a large number of all possible suspects.

Combined test

Erasmus MC scientists from the Department of Forensic Molecular Biology work on the forefront of research on the genetic basis of human appearance including eye and hair colour. They previously developed the IrisPlex test system for DNA-based eye colour prediction and recently demonstrated that hair colour is also predictable from DNA. Now they developed a DNA test system for the simultaneous prediction of hair and eye colour. This test system is expected to become useful in providing new leads in cold cases including missing person identifications.

Very sensitive

Professor Manfred Kayser, who led the study: “The new HIrisiPlex test system we developed includes the 24 currently best eye and hair colour predictive DNA markers. In its design we took care that the test can cope with the challenges of forensic DNA analysis such as low amounts of material. The test is very sensitive and produces complete results on even smaller DNA amounts than usually used for forensic DNA profiling. Hence, we believe that the HIrisPlex system will become highly useful in suitable forensic case work.”

This research was made possible in part by subsidies granted by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and the Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI) / Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) in the framework of the Forensic Genomic Consortium Netherlands (FGCN).

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