I’ve Just Seen a (DNA-Generated) Face

Heather Murphy in The New York Times:

FACESThe faces here, which look a bit like video game avatars, are actually portraits drawn from DNA. Each rendering was created by plugging an individual genetic profile into a predictive tool created by Mark D. Shriver, a professor of anthropology and genetics at Penn State University. Dr. Shriver and his colleagues have studied the ways that genes influence facial development. Their software yields an image in a matter of minutes, rapidly drawing connections beween genetic markers and points on the face. In less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee, a sketch emerges inferred solely from DNA.

How accurate or useful are these predictions? That is something that Dr. Shriver is still researching – and that experts are still debating. Andrew Pollack writes about the issues in an article on genetic sleuthing in Science Times. On The New York Times’s science desk, we wondered whether it would be possible to identify our colleagues based on the formula that Dr. Shriver has developed. So we tried a somewhat unscientific experiment. John Markoff, a reporter, and Catherine Spangler, a video journalist, each volunteered to share their genetic profile, downloaded from 23andMe, a consumer DNA-testing company. The files we sent to Dr. Shriver did not include their names or any information about their height, weight or age. Dr. Shriver processed the genotype data and sent us renderings of the donors’ faces.

More here.