A multidisciplinary team led by KU Leuven and Stanford has identified 76 overlapping genetic sites that shape our face and brain. What the researchers didn’t find is evidence that this genetic overlap also predicts a person’s cognitive-behavioral traits or the risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. This means that the results help debunk many of the persistent pseudoscientific claims about what our face reveals about us.
There were already indications of a genetic link between the shape of our face and the shape of our brain, says Professor Peter Claes of the Genetic Imaging Laboratory at KU Leuven, who is the co-lead author of the study with Professor Joanna Wesuka of Stanford University. University College of Medicine. “But our knowledge of this link was based on model organism research and clinical knowledge of extremely rare cases,” Claes continues. “We set out to map the genetic link between individuals’ face and brain shape on a much larger scale, and for the genetic variation that occurs in a much larger non-clinical population.”
Brain and DNA scans from the UK Biobank
To study the genetic underpinnings of brain shape, the team applied a methodology that Peter Claes and colleagues had already used in the past to identify the genes that determine our face shape. Claes: “In these earlier studies, we analyzed 3D images of faces and correlated several data points on these faces with genetic information to find correlations.” In this way, the researchers were able to identify the different genes that make up our face.
For the current study, the team relied on these previously acquired insights in addition to data available at Britain’s Biobank, a database from which they used magnetic resonance brain scans and the genetic information of 20,000 individuals. Claes: “In order to be able to analyze the MRI scans, we had to measure the brains shown in the scans. Our special focus was on differences in the folded outer surface of the brain – the typical“ nut shape. ”Then we continued correlating the data from the image analyzes with the available genetic information. The method, we identified 472 genomic sites that have an effect on the shape of our brain. 351 of these sites had not previously been reported. To our amazement, we found that as many as 76 predictive genomic locations of the shape of the brain had been previously discovered as correlating with the shape of the face. This makes the genetic correlation. Masked between the face and the shape of the brain. ”
The team also found evidence that genetic signals that influence brain and face shape are enriched in genome regions that regulate gene activity during embryonic development, either in facial progenitor cells or in the developing brain. Wysocka explains that this makes sense, as brain and face development are coordinated. “But we did not expect this developmental talk to be so genetically complex and to have such a broad impact on human diversity.”
There is no genetic link to behavior or neuropsychiatric disorders
Dr Shaheen Naqvi of Stanford University School of Medicine, who is the first author of the study, says what the researchers didn’t find is at least as important. “We found a clear genetic link between a person’s face and the shape of their brain, but this overlap is almost completely unrelated to the cognitive behavioral traits of that individual.”
Concretely: even with advanced technologies, it is impossible to predict a person’s behavior based on their facial features. Peter Claes continues: “Our results confirm that there is no genetic evidence of a link between a person’s face and their behavior. Therefore, we explicitly distance ourselves from claims of pseudoscience to the contrary. For example, some people claim that they can detect aggressive tendencies in faces from The Artificial Intelligence Road. These projects are not only completely unethical, they also lack a scientific basis. “
In their study, the authors also briefly addressed conditions such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Claes: “As a starting point, we used results previously published by other teams on the genetic basis of such neuropsychiatric disorders. The potential association with the genes that determine our face shape has not been examined before. If you compare the current results with our new results, you will see a relatively large overlap between The genetic variants that contribute to certain neuropsychiatric disorders and those that play a role in the shape of our brain, but not to those that contribute to our face. ”In other words: the risk of developing a neuropsychiatric disorder is not written on our faces as well.
This research is a collaboration between KU Leuven, Stanford University School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, Purdue Indianapolis University, Cardiff University, and George Mason University.
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