A new tool by researchers at the School of Science at IUPUI and Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands can predict your hair, skin, and eye color from your DNA data. The system, which is essentially a web app that can accept DNA sequences, compares known color phenotypes to known data and tells you the probabilities of each color.
The app, called HIrisPlex-S, can tell colors from even small amounts of DNA like that left at a crime scene.
“We have previously provided law enforcement and anthropologists with DNA tools for eye color and for combined eye and hair color, but skin color has been more difficult,” said forensic geneticist Susan Walsh from IUPUI. “Importantly, we are directly predicting actual skin color divided into five subtypes — very pale, pale, intermediate, dark and dark to black – using DNA markers from the genes that determine an individual’s skin coloration. This is not the same as identifying genetic ancestry. You might say it’s more similar to specifying a paint color in a hardware store rather than denoting race or ethnicity. If anyone asks an eyewitness what they saw, the majority of time they mention hair color and skin color. What we are doing is using genetics to take an objective look at what they saw.”
You can actually try the web app here but be warned: it’s not exactly the most user friendly app on the web. It requires you to know specific alleles for your test subject or upload a set of alleles in a csv file. It is, however, free and looks like it could wildly useful in law enforcement and figuring out what your hair color was before you dyed it purple.
“With our new HIrisPlex-S system, for the first time, forensic geneticists and genetic anthropologists are able to simultaneously generate eye, hair and skin color information from a DNA sample, including DNA of the low quality and quantity often found in forensic casework and anthropological studies,” said Manfred Kayser of Erasmus MC.