Criminals beware: a DNA test for hair color

Scientists have developed a way to use DNA to predict a person's hair color. Is the unknown but wanted individual blond?
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Criminals can run, but they might be leaving some incriminating evidence behind. Scientists have figured out how to use DNA information to predict a person's hair color.

In the near future, DNA from blood, sperm or saliva samples could be used to help track down an unknown perpetrator.

Dutch researchers from Erasmus Medical Center and their collaborators in Poland have discovered 13 genetic markers in 11 genes that can be used to predict hair color.

The research was published in the journal Human Genetics. But basically, scientists claim they can predict if a person has red hair or black hair with 90% accuracy. When it comes to predicting if a person has blond or brown hair, the scientists claim to be 80% accurate. The scientists can also predict different shades of hair color, so people with dirty blond hair or other unusual colors can be tracked down too.

“That we are now making it possible to predict different hair colors from DNA represents a major breakthrough as, so far, only red hair color (which is rare) could be estimated from DNA," said the lead scientist, Manfred Kayser from Erasmus University Medical Center.

The researchers used DNA and hair color information from hundreds of Europeans. The genes had previously been shown to influence the differences in hair color.

"We identified 13 ‘DNA markers’ from 11 genes that are informative to predict a person’s hair color," said Kayser, in a statement.

The same group of researchers previously demonstrated that genetic information can help predict eye color. The researchers also predicted the age of the wanted person using only blood samples. Normally, forensic scientists need an actual body or other identifiable body parts in order to estimate a person's age.

Today, the problem with DNA profiling is its comparative nature. DNA profiles are compared to known suspects or individuals who are in the criminal DNA database. That's why some crimes are unsolvable.

This study might pave the way for yet another DNA test that would give forensic scientists more tools to crack unsolved mysteries. Predicting human phenotypes like a person's hair color would certainly give crime fighters an edge.

Until then, there's always the hit TV show CSI to tease our imaginations with what is possible.

Photo: derekGavey via flickr and Erasmus University Medical Center

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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