OCT 26, 2017 4:58 PM PDT

Can Your Face be Recreated From a DNA Sample?

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Craig Venter is well known in the field of genetics as a pioneer who helped sequence the human genome, and whose company created a synthetic cell from the smallest known genome of any independent organism. He is an author on a new paper that has claimed that it is possible to determine what a person looks like based only on their genetic information.

In that work, scientists used artificial intelligence-based technology to find small details in a person's genome that they associated with various physical characteristics like height, age, weight, and facial features. That information was then used to identify single individuals, out of groups of ten, based on their genomes. Because the approach was successful 74 percent of the time, the authors of the study claim that genomic data has to be carefully protected, lest it is used to identify people from only a DNA sample.

While genomic data should be protected, some reviewers have pushed back against the paper. The genome already provides data like sex and ethnicity, which could be used to correctly identify people. One author has also commented that the claims are vastly overstated. There is concern that because the paper carries the weight of Venter's name, that people may place too much value in the conclusions. Either way, we are certainly venturing into new areas in which society will have to confront difficult ethical questions that will arise from new technologies we are now creating.
About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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