Science Podcasts

Question of the Week episode

Sun, 28th Jun 2015

Are fingerprints unique?

Dna_fingerprinting_fingerprint (c)

This week, Tom Crawford put Helenís question under the magnifying glass to try and find out whether fingerprints really are unique and if so, whether the same applies to toeprints? We put this to Forensic Scientist, Professor Niamh Nic Daeid form Dundee University...

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Helen Fawthrop asked the Naked Scientists: Hello Chris Please put me out of my misery. How is it possible no one persons finger prints are the same as anothers. How can one developing embroyo possible know what pattern another developing embroyo has choosen? Many thanks Helen Fawthrop Cape Town South Africa What do you think? Helen Fawthrop , Tue, 20th May 2008

The pattern is created by a random process during growth i believe. It could be possible for two people to have the same fingerprint but it would be very very unlikely. Madidus_Scientia, Wed, 21st May 2008

That's right. Not even identical twins have the same physical fingerprint. Their genetic fingerprints, on the other hand (!), are a direct match.

Chris chris, Wed, 21st May 2008



If I understand this correctly Chris....do you then mean that our fingers DO have identical fingerprints to the corresponding fingers on the other hand ?  ie: my pointing finger on both hands have the same fingerprints ? neilep, Wed, 21st May 2008



Yes

iko, Wed, 21st May 2008



What about snowflakes? They are duplicated, so why should someone, somewhere not have the same prints as someone else? paul.fr, Wed, 21st May 2008



If I understand this correctly Chris....do you then mean that our fingers DO have identical fingerprints to the corresponding fingers on the other hand ?  ie: my pointing finger on both hands have the same fingerprints ?


No, I'm not sure that's true; the fingerprint is a developmental phenomenon where what amounts to dice-rolling determines how tissues develop. Hence I don't think the physical patterns on paired fingers should be any more likely to match than the patterns on neighbouring fingers.

Chris chris, Wed, 21st May 2008

There is no actual ukase from the universe that mandates that fingerprints are unique. It is just that the probability is so low that it is, effectively,  impossible in our lifetimes.

In fact, given an infinity of human gametes, it is impossible for one NOT to occur.

And in fact if there are an infinite number of earths in the multiverse, then there is a Pecos Bill on earth prime sitting in the new Jerusalem with my exact fingerprints and being served free beer by sloe-eyed maidens wearing silk gauze pantaloons.

Bottoms up! Pecos_Bill, Tue, 30th Jun 2015

On a side-branch:

The 6 branching legs of a "traditional" snowflake are symmetrical, but this pattern looks different from other snowflakes.

The exact shape is determined by he exact trajectory the snowflake takes through a storm, with varying temperature, humidity and pressure.

This trajectory is unlikely to be followed by the next snowflake you examine.

The 6 legs are very similar, because they followed the same trajectory through the cloud.

It's not impossible that another one will be identical, just rather unlikely. 


Under different cloud conditions, "snowflakes" can form much simpler, non-branching shapes, which will look more similar to each other under a microscope. evan_au, Tue, 30th Jun 2015

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