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DNA can reveal the eye colour of our ancient predecessors

Tuesday, 29 January 2013
DNA can reveal the eye colour of our ancient predecessors
New technology could help identify the eye and hair colour of our ancestors who died nearly 800 years ago.

The system known as HIrisPlex, was invented by scientists in Netherlands and Poland and can determine the eye and hair colour of historical figures, which have long been unknown and depicted differently through culture. It could also be a valuable tool in aiding police and forensic teams in the identification of victims from hundreds of years ago.

Currently a similar system is used to classify the eye and hair colour of recent victims. Wojciech Branicki, a geneticist from the Institute of Forensic Research and his team developed this technique further analysing 24 different points in the human genome that are linked with different hair and eye colours, so it could be used on older remains.

The scientists involved examined the remains of a World War 2 General called Władysław Sikorski who died in a plane crash in 1943. Analysing one of his teeth they were able to confirm that Władysław Sikorski had blue eyes and blonde hair, matching the paintings produced of him long after his death.

Unfortunately HlrisPlex is not faultless and allows for some margin of error, researchers said that it can conclude blue or brown eyes with 94% accuracy. Hair colour however, is less precise, predicting black hair with an accuracy rate of 87.5%, and all other colours with a lower rate, with red hair being 80% precise, brown 78.5% and blonde the lowest at 69.5%.

HlrisPlex is capable of generating results from remains at least 800 years old, although the accuracy is reduced due to there being less DNA to sample. Researchers used their test to find out the eye and hair colour of woman found in Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec near Kraków and believed to have lived between the 12th and 14th century. The test showed that she most likely had dark blond or brown hair and brown eyes.

Branicki and his team believe that there could be up to 127 genes in the human body that influence eye and hair colour, and in the future their system may examine more than just 24 points.

Branicki said: “Although research on eye and hair colour prediction is on-going, and we may expect some new predictors, it seems that the main predictors have been already identified, especially in the case of eye colour, we should not expect any breakthrough in prediction in the near future."

Posted By +Brendan O'Brien

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