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Can This DNA Sleuth Help Catch Criminals?

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Science  18 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6019, pp. 838-840
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6019.838

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Forensic geneticist Manfred Kayser's group made headlines around the world last year with a paper showing how the DNA in a blood sample can give away someone's age—albeit with a margin of error of at least 9 years. His group has developed a DNA test to predict someone's eye color; work on hair color, skin color, and other traits is in progress. The genetic clues that Kayser and others are trying to glean from minuscule amounts of blood, semen, saliva, and hair are unlikely to be introduced as evidence in a courtroom. After all, when someone is suspected of a crime, or charged, a conventional DNA fingerprinting test can determine if his or her DNA matches traces found at the crime scene. Instead, forensic DNA phenotyping could be useful during an investigation, when predicting a criminal's looks can help the police focus their search. Forensic DNA phenotyping raises new ethical and legal issues, and the Netherlands has regulated the practice in a new law (see sidebar). But Kayser doesn't anticipate that the concerns will stop the field. This story and the one accompanying it are part of a collection this month reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the publication of the human genome, which are gathered here.