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Gene activity and digit structure define fingerprint pattern 

Fingerprint formation is initiated by a specialised molecular process, influenced by the anatomy of the developing hand, research shows. 

Scientists have discovered how fingerprints are formed, and how their unique characteristics are shaped, in a novel multidisciplinary study. 

Fingerprint ridges, and their characteristic arches, loops and whorls, are formed by a combination of molecular signalling and the anatomy of developing fingers, research shows. 

The many variables involved in the process give rise to the unique patterns found in each person, which aid our grip and help us experience textures. 

Findings from the study, led by Roslin Institute researchers, could aid understanding of health disorders, including congenital conditions, which affect development of structures including skin, hair and sweat glands. 

Unending variation 

Scientists shed light on fingerprint formation by examining the roles of genes involved in the process using stem cell-derived organoids and mouse models in the lab.  

The initial stages of fingerprint formation, which create undulations in the outer layer of the developing skin, are similar to those that occur when hair follicles begin to form, driven by a key set of genes, the team discovered. 

These ridges form as a series of waves that spread from distinct sites of the developing finger to form the fingerprint pattern.  As these patterns form they are influenced by many factors including the length of the fingers, the shape of the fingertips, and localised activity of genes. The result of this is an infinite variety of fingerprint patterns that can be produced.  

The research, published in the journal Cell, was carried out in collaboration with colleagues in the UK, the Czech Republic and China. 

Insight from this work could help understand how structures of the skin, such as sweat glands and hair follicles, fail to form in individuals affected by disorders such as hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia.

Dr Denis HeadonRoslin Institute:

Our findings show that distinctive, individual fingerprint patterns are formed by a molecular process driven by gene activity, and shaped by variations in the individual anatomy of our fingers. It is only through collaboration with mathematicians and engineers that this work was possible, highlighting the power of multidisciplinary science.

Dr James GloverRoslin Institute

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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