Police with no leads can now predict the eye colour of their suspect from DNA recovered at the crime scene. It's the first time such a tool has been available.
Manfred Kayser at Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and colleagues have developed IrisPlex, which can predict with 94 per cent accuracy whether a person has blue or brown eyes from a sample of DNA.
The Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice is expected to approve the kit in the coming weeks, while the UK could use it immediately.
It is the first validated tool to help police home in on a possible suspect by predicting a visible trait, says Kayser. This could be useful in cases where police have DNA from a crime scene, but can't find a match on a DNA database. It is not accurate enough to secure convictions in court, however.
IrisPlex examines six single-letter variations in DNA, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which have been strongly linked to eye colour, and categorises them as blue, brown or "undefined" - an intermediate colour such as green, grey, or a mix of colours.
Tests of the kit, carried out on populations from seven different European countries, confirm that it can predict blue or brown eye colour with a high degree of accuracy (Forensic Science International: Genetics, DOI: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2011.07.009).
The identification of three new SNPs may soon enable IrisPlex to predict the shade as well as colour. A different kit that combines both eye and hair colour is also being tested.
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