Face It: Genes control much of facial variation

Face It: Genes control much of facial variation

“Look, she’s got her daddy’s nose!”

While you might roll your eyes at this typical pronouncement from relatives cooing over a newborn’s crib, research does suggest our facial features are controlled in part by genetics. However, few studies have examined the specific genetic factors behind facial shape and size.

In a new study published in PLOS Genetics, John Shaffer and colleagues performed a genome-wide association study with 3,118 healthy individuals of European ancestry, looking for links between 20 facial characteristics and single base pair variations, SNPs, in their genomes.

The genetic regions significantly associated with different facial measurements, along with nearby potentially relevant genes.

The genetic regions significantly associated with different facial measurements, along with nearby potentially relevant genes.

They found that characteristics including facial width, distance between eyes, and nose size were all associated with distinctive SNPs found in certain regions on chromosomes 11, 14 and 20, among others. Several genes in these regions are known to play a role in facial abnormalities, so the authors hope that future research might track down genetic risk factors behind anomalies such as cleft lip and palate.

And in the future, those relatives might know for sure which parent really is to blame for Baby’s nose…

Research Article: Shaffer JR, Orlova E, Lee MK, Leslie EJ, Raffensperger ZD, Heike CL, et al. (2016) Genome-Wide Association Study Reveals Multiple Loci Influencing Normal Human Facial Morphology. PLoS Genet 12(8): e1006149. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006149

Additional Research:

Claes P, Shriver MD (2016) New Entries in the Lottery of Facial GWAS Discovery. PLoS Genet 12(8): e1006250. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006250

Cole JB, Manyama M, Kimwaga E, Mathayo J, Larson JR, Liberton DK, et al. (2016) Genomewide Association Study of African Children Identifies Association of SCHIP1 and PDE8A with Facial Size and Shape. PLoS Genet 12(8): e1006174. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006174

Images Credits: Alexandre Delbos, Flickr; Valentina Powers, Flickr; Shaffer et al. (2016)


Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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