What if finding DNA was all the police needed to know what a suspect looked like? This could become reality. Irish geneticist Dr. Susan Walsh has received more than €900,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to develop tests to get a picture of physical appearance from DNA.
If forensic investigators cannot find a match for DNA found at a crime scene, the DNA profile can end up sitting in a computer or in a frozen sample. But DNA has almost everything needed to give some clues about physical appearance.
Walsh, a graduate of University College Cork, developed the first estimation of eye and hair color from DNA, which is now used by Dutch police in criminal investigations and in Australia for missing persons. She believes her tests could be used to restart cold cases in Ireland.
“If you find a corpse or body part, we can now give some indication of what that individual looked like, and we can test for bio-geographic ancestry too,” says Walsh. “You discover you are looking for someone with blond hair, blue eyes, so you cross off individuals with dark eyes, black hair.” Tests are in the pipeline that will estimate age. These tests are for providing police leads, however, and not evidence for court cases.