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Which facial features are most controlled by genetics?

Research published this month uses computer image and statistical shape analysis to identify which parts of the face are most likely to be inherited.


Researchers, at King's College London, created 3D faces of nearly 1,000 twin females born in the United Kingdom (UK), finding the shapes at the end of the (1) nose, above and below the (2) lips, (3) cheekbones and the inner corner of the (4) eye are highly influenced by genes. Scans of twin faces using 3D cameras ran the images through custom built software, which generated thousands of points perfectly aligned across each face. Each image was measured for how 'curved' the face became at select points. The work is published in Nature: Scientific Reports.

Comparisons were then made between facial points on identical twins — with the exact same genes, and fraternal (non-identical) twins — who share only half their genes. Researchers then calculated these facially specific areas and determined the likelihood of genetic inheritance.

This is called "heritability", where a larger number implies more likely that this part of face shape is controlled by genes. They then published 'atlases' showing how heritable each part of face shape is, which are viewable at: http://heritabilitymaps.info


"The notion that our genes control our face is self-evident. Many of us have facial traits that clearly resample those of our parents, and identical twins are often indistinguishable. However, quantifying precisely which parts of the face are strongly heritable has been challenging so far. By combining 3D models of the face with a statistical algorithm that measures local changes in shape, we have been able to create detailed 'face heritability maps'. These maps will help identify specific genes shaping up the human face, which may also be involved in diseases altering face morphology.

Giovanni Montana PhD, Professor, and lead researcher, King's College, London United Kingdom.


"This study also shows us that even identical twins can vary quite a lot on facial features," explainsTim Spector PhD, a professor and Director of the Twins UK Study at King's College London "but, because of the key areas being genetically controlled, we perceive them as being 'identical.'

The software designed to analyse these 3D facial scans could also be adjusted for use in medical imaging, engineering and facial recognition technology.

Abstract
The human face is a complex trait under strong genetic control, as evidenced by the striking visual similarity between twins. Nevertheless, heritability estimates of facial traits have often been surprisingly low or difficult to replicate. Furthermore, the construction of facial phenotypes that correspond to naturally perceived facial features remains largely a mystery. We present here a large-scale heritability study of face geometry that aims to address these issues. High-resolution, three-dimensional facial models have been acquired on a cohort of 952 twins recruited from the TwinsUK registry, and processed through a novel landmarking workflow, GESSA (Geodesic Ensemble Surface Sampling Algorithm). The algorithm places thousands of landmarks throughout the facial surface and automatically establishes point-wise correspondence across faces. These landmarks enabled us to intuitively characterize facial geometry at a fine level of detail through curvature measurements, yielding accurate heritability maps of the human face (www.heritabilitymaps.info).

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London and the NIHR Guy's and St Thomas' Clinical Research Facility.

About King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2016/17 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 29,600 students (of whom nearly 11,700 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 8,000 staff. King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), eighty-four per cent of research at King's was deemed 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent' (3* and 4*). Since our foundation, King's students and staff have dedicated themselves in the service of society. King's will continue to focus on world-leading education, research and service, and will have an increasingly proactive role to play in a more interconnected, complex world. Visit our website to find out more about Vision 2029, King's strategic vision for the next 12 years to 2029, which will be the 200th anniversary of the founding of the university. For further information about King's, please visit the King's in Brief web pages.

The TwinsUK study is based at St Thomas' Hospital.

About Wellcome
Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We're a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.
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Apr 24, 2017   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News   News Archive   



A three quarter facial mask reflects (red) the most prominent facial inherited areas.
Image Credit: Rotate the facial maps located at Heritability Maps

 


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