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New tool predicts color of skin, hair and eyes

Scientists from, among others, Erasmus MC have developed a novel tool which can predict eye, hair and skin color from a small DNA trace of an unidentified person.

The study was published in the forensic journal Forensic Science International: Genetics.

This all-in-one pigmentation tool, called HIrisPlex-S system, is designed for use when standard forensic DNA profiling is not helpful, such as in cases without known suspects where no match with the forensic DNA database is achieved. Forensic application of this tool allows focused police investigation to help finding unknown perpetrators who cannot be identified based on forensic DNA profiling alone.

dnaForensic casework
The HIrisPlex-S system includes both, a robust and sensitive laboratory tool and a publically available webtool. It represents the extension to skin color of the HIrisPlex test system for simultaneous eye and hair color prediction from DNA, which has been developed earlier by the same group of researchers, and is practically used for forensic casework by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), as well as in other countries.

The tool allows scientists to predict an individual's actual skin color divided into five subtypes -- very pale, pale, intermediate, dark and dark to black -- using DNA markers from the genes that determine an individual's skin coloration. "This is not the same as identifying genetic ancestry, it's more similar to specifying a paint color in a hardware store, rather than denoting race or ethnicity", according to the researchers.

DNA sample
Erasmus MC has conducted the study in collaboration with the School of Science at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and their study partners. Manfred Kayser, co-leader of the study, says: "With our new HIrisPlex-S system, we enable forensic geneticists and genetic anthropologists for the first time to simultaneously generate eye, hair, and skin color information from a DNA sample, including DNA of the low quality and quantity confronted within forensic casework and anthropological studies".

See the article "HIrisPlex-S system for eye, hair and skin colour prediction from DNA: Introduction and forensic developmental validation".

Date published: 15 May 2018.

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