Biology Current Event
Building a Face, and a Case, on DNA
DNA analysis has been extremely helpful in identifying and convicting or acquitting people in crimes, but new technology is going to improve what DNA analysis can do. Several teams of Scientists across the country are working to develop technology that could identify the hair, eye, and skin color, along with the age and gender, of suspects from their DNA. This new science is called forensic DNA phenotyping and is starting to be used in crime solving. The eventual goal of these developing tech companies is to have software and technology that can develop a detailed and accurate facial description from the DNA, just like a sketch artist. The early forms of this technology were used in Columbia South Carolina last month when police released a sketch from of a double homicide suspect, even though there were no witnesses. The Department of Justice recently issued a $1.1 million grant to develop tools like this. Other companies like Parabon NanoLabs, Identitas, Illumina, and HIrisPlex already have a head start in finding ways to determine physical traits from DNA. The difficulty in constructing this technology comes with the fact that most physical traits are the product of several genetic variants. Hair color, for example, is a product of 24 different variables in a persons DNA, and all of these variables have to be analysed in order to determine their hair color. There are 700 variables that affect a person's height and tracking how each variable one changes the final height of a person can be tricky. One study suggested that, while there are 700 different variables that influence height, only 15% of them change from person to person, which makes predicting someone's height from their DNA easier. Age is also something that scientists have been able to calculate, but through a different process; certain genetic markers shut off particular genes as people age and seeing which genes are shut off can tell a person’s age. Other scientists working on this type of technology have said that ancestry and race only makeup around 23% of facial structure, and the genetic variants that they have found help very little in determining features so scientists still have a long way to go. The development of groundbreaking new technology is usually met with with criticism and sometimes friction, especially when dealing with issues like race and DNA. The issues with this technology in particular seem to be with the possibility of racial profiling. This technology is not yet permitted in court trials because it has not been perfected, but it is most definitely the future of crime solving.
These new developments in forensics will lead the way for the future of how solving crime is tackled. It will make profiling and finding criminals much easier and most likely deter criminals. It will also further our understanding about how DNA translates into our physical traits. Down the line it may also lead to predicting disease and defects in our bodies based on our genetic code. The technology for DNA science is advancing very rapidly and is a very important field of biology. These discoveries will lead not only to better forensic analysis, but also a better understanding of how DNA works.
The article written by Andrew Pollack was well done, informative, and easy to read. It taught me a broad spectrum of new information about the science involved with DNA forensics. Pollack seems to have done plenty of research, talked to many sources, and developed this story as much as possible. I do think, however, that he could have done a slightly better job at organizing and structuring the article as it seemed to go back and forth between ideas occasionally, especially when it came to the racial implications of this new technology. Overall Pollack’s article was well written and made learning about DNA forensics easy and interesting.
Pollack, Andrew. "Building a Face, and a Case, on DNA." The New York Times. The New
York Times, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.