A new strategy for capturing the 3D shape of the human face draws on data from sibling pairs and leads to the identification of new links between facial shape features and specific locations in the human genome. Hanne Hoskens from the Department of Human Genetics at the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, and her colleagues present these results in the open access journal PLOS Genetics.
The ability to capture the 3D shape of the human face – and how it varies between individuals of different genetics – can inform a variety of applications, including understanding human evolution, surgery planning, and the sciences. forensic. However, existing tools for linking genetics to physical traits require the entry of simple measurements, such as eye distance, that do not adequately capture the complexities of facial shape.
Now, Hoskens and his colleagues have developed a new strategy to capture these complexities in a format that can then be studied with existing analytical tools. To do this, they relied on the facial similarities often seen between genetically related siblings. The strategy was initially developed by learning 3D facial data from a group of 273 pairs of siblings of European descent, which revealed 1,048 facial features shared between siblings – and therefore presumably based on a genetic basis.
The researchers then applied their new facial shape capture strategy to 8,246 people of European descent, for whom they also had genetic information. This produced data on facial shape similarities between siblings which could then be combined with their genetic data and analyzed with existing tools to relate genetics to physical traits. This revealed 218 locations in the human genome, or locus, that were associated with facial features shared by siblings.
Further examination of the 218 loci showed that some are gene sites that have previously been linked to embryonic facial development and abnormal development of the bones of the head and face.
The authors note that this study could serve as the basis for several different directions of future research, including replicating the findings in larger populations and investigating the genetic loci identified in order to better understand the biological processes involved in facial development. .
Hoskens adds: “Since siblings are likely to share facial features due to close kinship, traits that are biologically relevant can be extracted from pairs of phenotypically similar siblings.”
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