MRC Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine
MRC Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine

3D insight into role of genetics in face development

A recent study led by scientists from our MRC Human Genetics Unit, has shown that differences in the activity of gene enhancers drive subtle variation in facial development: November 2013

The human face is strongly genetically determined and as distinctive as a fingerprint. Unless you are an identical twin, no one else looks exactly like you. But what is it in our genetic make-up that allows humanity to create such a huge diversity of face shape?

A recent study led by Axel Visel at Berkeley Lab and co-authored by David FitzPatrick and Harris Morrison from our MRC Human Genetics Unit, has shown that differences in the activity of gene enhancers – regions of DNA that regulate gene function – drive subtle variation in facial development. This suggest that our face shape is be due to the unique cocktail of these enhancers that we inherit from our parents.

High-resolution 3D videos produced by Harris using Optical Projection Tomography – an imaging technique developed in the MRC Human Genetics Unit - accompany the “Fine Tuning of Craniofacial Morphology by Distant-Acting Enhancers” paper in the journal Science and highlight the enhancer regions involved in facial development in mice.

It is hoped that further research into these enhancer regions will ultimately lead to the improved diagnosis and treatment of facial birth defects.

Related Links

Berkley Lab Press Release

Research Paper in Science

Science Video

New Scientist Video

BBC News