13 January 2013

Ancient faces reconstructed

by Will Parker

A new DNA system employed to analyze modern forensic samples has also been used to establish facial characteristics from centuries old human remains. A study in the journal Investigative Genetics details how the HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was able to reconstruct hair and eye color from teeth up to 800 years old.

According to its Polish and Dutch inventors, the HIrisPlex system examines 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair color. Although built for modern forensic analysis work, the developers say it is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones.

"This system can be used to solve historical controversies where color photographs or other records are missing. HIrisPlex was able to confirm that General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943, had the blue eyes and blond hair present in portraits painted years after his death. Some of our samples were from unknown inmates of a World War II prison. In these cases HIrisPlex helped to put physical features to the other DNA evidence," said co-inventor Dr Wojciech Branicki, from the Institute of Forensic Research, Kraków,

For medieval samples, where DNA is even more degraded, Branicki said the system was still able to predict eye and hair color, identifying one mysterious woman buried in the crypt of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec sometime during the 12th-14th centuries, as having dark blond hair and brown eyes.

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Source: Investigative Genetics