IUPUI professor develops DNA technology to determine eye color, hair color and skin complexion

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There’s a new breakthrough in how DNA can be used to find suspects and solve crimes. An IUPUI professor has developed technology that determines eye color, hair color and now skin complexion from just a trace of DNA.

Back in 2015, Dr. Susan Walsh introduced us to the HIrisplex-S DNA test when it only concluded eye and hair color. Now skin color has been added to the mix.

“So we basically finished the pigmentation trio we added skin to the mix as well so that means we can predict eye, hair and skin from DNA from a crime scene sample,” Dr. Walsh said.

From cold cases to new investigations, the HIrisplex-S DNA test tells the story of crimes that take place when there’s not enough evidence. And it all starts with a DNA sample. Typically when DNA is used to crack crimes, it’s put through comparable profiling, meaning they have to have a suspect or a database to match to. Not here.

“We don’t need a match. We basically will tell you what the person looks like whoever left that sample. It can be a victim sample, it could be a suspect sample,” Dr. Walsh said.

Dr. Walsh and her team chose 41 pieces of DNA linked to eye, skin and hair color.

“So these are broad categories. From eye color it would be do you have blue, brown or intermediate eye color. From hair color it is red, black, blonde or brown hair color with light or dark shade included. From skin color it’s very pale, pale, intermediate, dark and dark to black skin color,” Dr. Walsh said.

The Indiana State Police lab is already using this technology for intelligence.

“We can exchange how the analysis went, what did we generate and we pass that along to investigators so we are one of the first states to start trying these tools on cases,” Dr. Walsh said.

Dr. Walsh created an online database so scientists all over the world have access to this. She says her true passion is using this to help identify the voiceless like victims in cold cases or fallen soldiers. She says configuring an entire face is years away. But next up she plans to identify hair texture through DNA.

To review the study, click here.

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