Dr DNA may rid the world of the ‘Whodunnit’ dilemma

Developments in forensic genetics may eventually render the old age question of ‘Whodunnit?’ redundant. Certain phenotypes (a person’s outward traits such as eye colour and hair colour) can now be predicted through DNA samples including blood, sperm and saliva. Professor Manfred Kayser, leader of the forensic molecular biology department at Erasmus University Medical Center and co-Editor-in-Chief of BioMed Central’s open access journal Investigative Genetics, is making headlines around the world through his studies as CSI jumps from our TV screens into the real world.

A recent profile published in Science explains Professor Kayser’s career and how he ended up as an “upcoming star” in forensic DNA phenotyping. 

Amongst Professor Kayser’s achievements, ‘Irisplex’ is a test developed by his group that can predict with over 90% accuracy whether someone has brown or blue eyes. More recently, the BBC website reported on his research explaining how hair colour can also be identified with 90% accuracy for red or black hair and 80% for blonde or brown.

Professor Kayser’s group is currently working on the holy grail of DNA analysis – a computer-generated, DNA-based facial sketch. This would represent a landmark for crime scene investigations. However, Kayser is cautious about the possibility of this. In his interview with Science, he said: “On paper, it’s possible.”

Forensic DNA phenotyping is considered a controversial subject and in some parts of the world, namely the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, is it either regulated or banned. The UK and the majority of US states permit its practice under established laws for forensic DNA but further development of the science and popular opinion may lead to calls for it to be controlled.  

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