As mankind advances, so does technology and experimental methods. In New York City an artist named Heather Dewey-Hagborg has been able to created 3D-printed human faces using small traces of DNA collected from crowded public places. Hagborg is able to collect the human DNA from cigarette butts, chewing gum, and strands of human hair. She begins her process by taking the DNA sample she has collected to a biotechnology lab located in Brooklyn where she can then obtain the sequencing information. When this has been done she runs the information through a computer program and creates a 3D-printed model of the face using the DNA she found.
|Hagborg with one of her 3D-printed models.|
However, creating the 3D models does have limitations. From the DNA sequence provided it is unclear of the person’s age and each model is not exactly identical to the person who’s DNA it was made from.
Hagborg’s main point in doing her project is that with today’s technology a single strand of hair can reveal someone’s genetic information. She believes that because of this, precautions must be taken regarding genetic surveillance as technology advances.
From a forensic science viewpoint, I think that what Hagborg is doing could help improve forensic facial reconstruction. With Hagborg’s method, those performing the facial reconstruction would not require a human skull and instead only need a single piece of DNA. While it is important to remember the 3D-printed face will not look exactly the face of the person the DNA was collected from, it could easily assist in identifying suspects in ongoing cases. In addition to known factors such as the age and height of a suspect, Hagborg’s method could aid in determining more about the facial profile of suspect being pursued.
This video briefly covers how facial reconstruction is currently done.
As far as genetic surveillance is concerned, I find it impossible to entirely protect your own DNA. Just walking down the street the average person sheds both their hair and skin. In addition to this, the average person also does not have 24/7 access to a 3D printer and biotechnology lab. Even if they did and could create models like Hagborg, what would they then do with the inaccurate model you created? If anything I find it disturbing that the Brooklyn biotechnology lab allows Hagborg to bring in the random DNA she has found with the intent to create a 3D model of the person’s face. Maybe if there is to be a movement to increase genetic privacy it should start with biotechnology labs preventing this sort of thing.