I found this equal parts cool and creepy. Parabon NanoLabs has developed a process called Snapshot that takes a DNA sample and extrapolates it into physical traits of the contributor. The traits include sex, genetic ancestry, skin color, hair color, eye color, freckling, and–gulp–facial morphology. A dab of blood or strand of hair can lead to a virtual mugshot of the person. Yikes.
Parabon, based in Reston, VA, uses DNA phenotyping to read biomarkers and make predictions about physical appearance. This process involves DNA data mining and data modeling to compare the genetic variants of the unknown subject against known DNA patterns.
With funding from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Parabon NanoLabs spent four years working to develop and validate their science for utilization in the defense, law enforcement, security, and intelligence industries. Parabon states that Snapshot is “extremely accurate.”
For us, Snapshot is technology that can generate new investigative leads when no suspect DNA results are found in CODIS. It can also be used to help identify unknown remains in missing persons cases and cold case homicides. Snapshot can be employed in active crime scenes or skeletal finds. This could be a tremendous boon to law enforcement agencies.
“Snapshot leverages recent advances in DNA sequencing technologies,” Ellen McRae Greytak, Ph.D., Parabon’s Director of Bioinformatics, explains. “It takes advantage of modern SNP technology, along with so-called ‘big data’ high-performance computing techniques to translate genetic markers into a number of different phenotype predictions. It can also be used to identify distant familial relationships between two DNA samples, such as second or third cousins, which is significantly more powerful than traditional STR-based analysis. For investigators, when CODIS fails to find a DNA match, their cases often go cold. A Snapshot forensic profile, however, can generate new leads and help resolve those cases.”
That’s the cool. Back to the creepy. I won’t pretend to understand the high tech wizardry behind Snapshot. It is just hard to believe that a small piece of DNA can be read to the degree that it yields information specific enough from which to build a person’s face! This is like something out of a science fiction novel.