14 January 2013

HIrisPlex DNA Analysis System Can Identify Hair and Eye Color From Ancient Human Remains

A new method of establishing hair and eye color from modern forensic samples can also be used to identify details from ancient human remains, finds a new study published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Investigative Genetics.
Credit: Jolanta Draus-Barini, Susan Walsh, Ewelina Pospiech, Tomasz Kupiec, Henryk Glab, Wojciech Branicki and Manfred Kayser
A new method for studying dna samples, the HIrisPlex DNA Analysis System, can be used to identify the hair and eye color from samples of ancient DNA from up to 800 years old.

DNA has been proven to be an invaluable tool in many fields of science and technology. From forensic science, medical science, and even nanotechnology, DNA is an important factor in advancing technology in that field.

DNA degrades quickly after death. But there are certain conditions that DNA can last thousands of years. These are called Ancient DNA or aDNA. aDNA allows scientists to identify a specific genetic type of race. It also helps track the evolution and movement of these people across time and space.

Most ancient DNA are recovered from bones, teeth, and desiccated feces (coprolites). The recovered DNA are usually too few to study. A device called the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) makes hundreds and billions of copies of the recovered DNA to better study and analyze it.

Studying aDNA helps in understanding certain aspects such as the migratory habits of ancient man, the foraging and agricultural transition, and the physical characteristics of ancient man.

The HIrisPlex DNA Analysis System

A new method of establishing hair and eye colour from modern forensic samples can also be used to identify details from ancient human remains, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Investigative Genetics. The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was able to reconstruct hair and eye colour from teeth up to 800 years old, including the Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881 to 1943) confirming his blue eyes and blond hair.

A team of researchers from Poland and the Netherlands, who recently developed the HIrisPlex system for forensic analysis, have now shown that this system is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones. The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair colour.

Video: Ancient DNA - bringing the past to life

Dr Wojciech Branicki, from the Institute of Forensic Research and Jagielonian University, Kraków, who led this study together with Prof Manfred Kayser, from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, explained, "This system can be used to solve historical controversies where colour photographs or other records are missing. HIrisPlex was able to confirm that General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943, had the blue eyes and blond hair present in portraits painted years after his death. Some of our samples were from unknown inmates of a World War II prison. In these cases HIrisPlex helped to put physical features to the other DNA evidence."

For medieval samples, where DNA is even more degraded, this system was still able to predict eye and hair colour (for the most degraded DNA samples eye colour alone), identifying one mysterious woman buried in the crypt of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec near Kraków, sometime during the 12th-14th centuries, as having dark blond/brown hair and brown eyes.


BioMed Central
Investigative Genetics
Institute of Forensic Research
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