Science Questions

Can you read genetic fitness in the face?

Sun, 15th Feb 2009

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Question

Katy O’Rourke asked:

Can you read the genes a person carries by looking at a facial structure?

Answer

Robert - Well not directly.  Fortunately we don’t all come with genetic labels on our faces like barcodes but we do know that our facial structure’s like everything else, strongly under genetic control.  What we also know is people are extraordinarily good at recognising faces.  We can pick faces out or very complex backgrounds and that is enormously important for us to be able to separate individuals out.  The answer’s almost certainly yes.  It’s one of the best things we’re at.  Of course, we can do it between individuals and very easily between populations.

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katy ororke asked the Naked Scientists: I have a general question: I am very interested to know whether you think an individual's facial features, for example factors such as symmetry, and size of features, and the measurements between these features (akin to the mask developed recently by a plastic surgeon) show to any extent the genetic make-up of a person....and whether this could affect the selection of partners for procreation? Apparently the waist to hips ratio of a woman shows their fertility? is there a parallel with facial characteristics? could these characteristics also give a clue to blood type? oriental diagnosis claims to diagnose illness from facial features. is there any concrete research material i could get hold of in this vein? an answer most appreciated....katy What do you think? katy ororke, Tue, 12th Aug 2008

Well there’s something called the “handicap hypothesis”, which discusses the effect of high testosterone levels and immunocompetence during development for males.

Prominent brow ridges, cheek bones and angular jaws indicate high levels of testosterone. Generally such features are associated with strong masculine males. However, testosterone, in high levels, acts to partially suppress the immune system. It is hypothesised that individuals that can successfully develop under the immunosuppressive pressure of high testosterone levels must have a particularly resilient genetic compliment that enables them to compensate for this.

So in that sense, masculine facial features could be used to speculate about the immune system regions of an individual’s genome…..
mario, Wed, 13th Aug 2008

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