Last updated at 14:08 BST, Friday, 25 October 2013

Study shows how genes shape face

Summary

25 October 2013

Scientists are starting to understand how our genes influence the way we look. A study with mice has shown that small changes to their DNA could alter the shape of their face. The findings are published in the journal Science.

Reporter:

Rebecca Morelle

A skull

Longer or shorter skull? It's in the genes!

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This study helps to explain how one person's face can look so different from another's. Scientists have identified thousands of sequences in our DNA that influence our appearance as we develop in the womb.

By looking at mice, they found that removing some of this genetic material subtly altered the rodent's appearance. In some, the modified DNA led to a longer or shorter skull, while others had wider or narrower faces. The researchers say that although the work was carried out on animals, the human face is likely to develop in the same way.

Dr Axel Visel, from the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory in California led the study.

"We are trying to find out how the instructions for building the human face are embedded in the human DNA, so somewhere in there, there must be that blueprint that defines what our face looks like."

The researchers say understanding this complex process could also help to reveal how facial birth defects - such as cleft lips and palates - arise.

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Vocabulary

identified

recognised

subtly altered

made very small changes to

carried out

performed, did

embedded

combined with, made part of

blueprint

full and detailed plan

birth defects

abnormalities that people are born with

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