How our genes shape our facial features

Credit: Stockbyte/Getty Images
Credit: Stockbyte/Getty Images

“The face tells the outside world about your identity, who you are related to, where your ancestors come from and even your health,” said Julie White, graduate student in anthropology, Penn State. “But we only know a fraction of how faces are formed. The facial structure comes together in early development, and if it doesn’t go right, you can get a cleft palate or other problem, but we don’t fully know what controls those processes.”

The researchers used two data sets, one from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the U.K., containing 3,566 individuals, and one from the U.S., containing 4,680 individuals. All subjects had highly detailed 3D facial photographs and the researchers placed over 7,000 point locations on the images using a gridded mask that was digitally stretched and pulled to conform to the facial contours of each individual. They report their findings [December 7] in Nature Genetics.

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Of the 203 genetic locations identified as significant for facial structure, 89 had already been found from other studies, either using the same data or with independent data. They also found 61 locations that were already implicated as the source of facial malformations in humans or mice. 53 locations were completely new to this study.

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