A multinational team of researchers at the University College London has just identified four genes that determine the shape of a nose. The researchers primarily looked at the width and ‘pointiness’ of noses, which greatly varies in individuals and in different populations. It has long been thought that adaptation to the environment determined the shape of human noses. For example, it is speculated that the cold, dry climate of Europe gave rise to the narrower noses found in European populations.
The researchers analyzed a population of over 6,000 people in Latin America to study the differences in normal facial features. The study included both men and women. In addition to identifying the genes that determine nose shape, they also identified the genes which control the shape of the chin.
So, what are the genes that control the width and pointiness of the nose? They are DCHS2, RUNX2, GLI3 and PAX1. And chin shape is controlled by the gene, EDAR.
According to the study,
“GLI3, DCHS2 and PAX1 are all genes known to drive cartilage growth — GLI3 gave the strongest signal for controlling the breadth of nostrils, DCHS2 was found to control nose pointiness and PAX1 also influences nostril breadth. RUNX2 which drives bone growth was seen to control nose bridge width.” -Sci News
The new findings could shed light on why certain facial deformities occur in some infants. Also forensic science could greatly benefit from this new discovery. If this discovery proves to be solid, imagine what collecting DNA at a crime scene could mean. Solving crimes with this new genetic identification toolkit could make it a lot easier to physically identify a criminal.
Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, one of the primary researchers in the study expressed some valuable insights:
“Few studies have looked at how normal facial features develop and those that have only looked at European populations, which show less diversity than the group we studied. What we’ve found are specific genes which influence the shape and size of individual features, which hasn’t been seen before. Finding out the role each gene plays helps us to piece together the evolutionary path from Neanderthal to modern humans. It brings us closer to understanding how genes influence the way we look, which is important for forensics applications.” -Sci News Kaustubh Adhikari
[Image Source: Kaustubh Adhikari/University College London]
This discovery is groundbreaking, but I can’t help but wonder how it could be used by corporations in the future. Will this knowledge be commodified and will people begin ordering their son’s or daughter’s future nose from a genetic menu? In 2013 alone, 150,000 Americans ordered nose surgery. My guess is that designer babies will happen in the future, but just how close we are to this reality is not yet known.