People who have very similar faces despite not being related to each other also resemble each other in DNA and can share physical characteristics such as weight and height, as well as some behavioral traits such as smoking. This is illustrated by a curious study that compared 32 pairs of similar shapes from around the world, identified and photographed by a Canadian artist. Results published In the journal Cell Reports by a research group led by geneticist Manel Esteller from the University of Barcelona in Spain.
“For decades, the existence of similar individuals without any family ties has been described as a proven fact, but only in anecdotal terms and without any scientific justification,” Esteller explains. “The widespread use of the Internet and social networks to share images means that today we are able to identify and study these people.”
The researchers recruited 32 pairs of doubles, made up of people who appeared to be twins but were complete strangers to each other, depicted over a twenty-year period by Canadian artist François Brunel. All participants completed a questionnaire about their biometric characteristics and lifestyle, while the degree of similarity in their faces was assessed objectively using three different facial recognition algorithms.
In 75% of cases (25 pairs of 32), the similarity of faces was recognized by at least two programs: 16 pairs, in particular, were evaluated as being similar by all three algorithms. Thanks to the analysis of the participants’ saliva samples, it was possible to verify that these 16 pairs of homologues also have a strong similarity with respect to DNA (assessed on the basis of more than 19,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms, the most common type of gene variation among people) , while they differ regarding the mechanisms of regulation of the genome (epigenetics) and the microbiome, two aspects that are strongly influenced by the environment. In addition, some physical traits such as weight and height and behavioral traits such as smoking and education were also correlated in the lookalikes.
Although few complications have been examined, the researchers believe the study still has a strong statistical basis and argue that it could have applications in forensics (to reconstruct researchers’ identity based on their DNA) and in preventive screening. We conclude from facial analysis that people may have disease-related genetic mutations.)
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