Scientists have identified 15 genes that they believe determine some of our our facial features and seven of them have been linked to the nose.
It is already known that DNA determines what we look like and recent research has already identified the genetic markers for physical traits such as skin and eye colour.
But the researchers believe that identifying the genes related to facial features could prove helpful in other areas of science – like, for example, doctors performing facial reconstructive surgery using their patients’ DNA profile, or forensic experts sketching a suspect’s face based on DNA retrieved from a crime scene.
A team of researchers in Belgium and the US looked at a database of more than 2,000 test subjects containing 3D images of faces and the corresponding DNA profile of the people.
They divided each face into different “modules” and looked for DNA markers for these individual sections. This technique allowed them to identify seven genes linked to the nose and nine genes linked to other areas of the face.
Lead author Dr Peter Claes, of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, said: “This modular division technique made it possible for the first time to check for an unprecedented number of facial features.”
The researchers believe understanding more about the genetic markers linked to facial features could help in other areas of science.
Dr Claes said: “A skull doesn’t contain any traces of the nose, which only consists of soft tissue and cartilage.
“Therefore, when forensic scientists want to reconstruct a face on the basis of a skull, the nose is the main obstacle.
“If the skull also yields DNA, it would become much easier in the future to determine the shape of the nose.”
But the team add that there is still work to be done.
Dr Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University in the US, said: “We won’t be able to predict a correct and complete face on the basis of DNA tomorrow.
“We’re not even close to knowing all the genes that give shape to our face.
“Furthermore, our age, environment, and lifestyle have an impact on what our face looks like as well.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics.