How Reliable Are Fingerprints for Identification?

The science of fingerprint identification has been an invaluable law enforcement tool for more than 100 years. Fingerprints found at crime scenes have led to more suspects and have generated more evidence in court than all other forensic techniques, combined. And no identical prints have ever been found among the billions that have been analyzed, either by experts or by computers. However, there are a handful of individuals who have no fingerprints at all. The fingertips of people with a rare genetic anomaly called adermatoglyphia are entirely flat -- they lack any of the swirls, loops, and whorls that can usually be relied upon as unique identifiers of all other human beings.

A rare genetic condition:

  • Scientists have tracked the genetic basis of adermatoglyphia to chromosome 4q22, a region of DNA that codes for a protein called SMARCAD1 -- but how and why fingerprint development is affected is still unknown.

  • People with adermatoglyphia are generally healthy and anatomically "normal" in nearly all other ways -- though they typically have fewer sweat glands. Worldwide, only four extended families have been linked to the mutation.

  • Other genetic disorders -- including Naegeli–Franceschetti–Jadassohn syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis -- can also lead to blank fingertips.

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More Info: Smithsonian magazine

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