New DNA Analysis Tool Predicts Pigment

May 31, 2018

new web tool builds on work to predict what an unidentified person might look like. 

DNA phenotyping predicts a person’s characteristics or traits based on a DNA sample.  Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis biology professor Susan Walsh is part of an international team doing this work and recently developed an online tool that uses a DNA sample. 

Walsh says what it does, is look at 41 pieces of a genome. 

"When you put all 41 into our online web tool it generates probability values for eye, hair and skin color," says Walsh. 

The tool is available to anyone online – which is particularly useful for law enforcement. 

Walsh’s research involved some Indiana State Police cold cases. She says police participation is key. 

"Because if that communication isn’t there, how do we know what to make?" Walsh says. 

The science has advanced quickly in recent years and this project builds on that research.  

"You know, sequencing is becoming the new thing right now, people can look at their own sequencing and look at their own pigmentation profile if they wanted to," says Walsh. 

Walsh says the ability to predict facial features is the goal, but they have a lot of work to do. 

"We really don’t know what genes are responsible for producing a face and the different dimensions in individual faces," says Walsh. 

DNA phenotyping is also used to identify archeological remains.

The international team also includes researchers from the Netherlands.