So called “junk DNA” found in mice have been identified as major factors in the shaping of their faces. These findings are important because the same sequences are found in humans, and might be shaping ours. Junk DNA is named as such because it doesn’t code proteins, so it was originally thought to be “junk”. Scientists believe that these findings can help with research for congenital conditions such as cleft palates.
Geneticists have only, as of yet, been able to define a small number of the genes that influence human face shape, however there is a large variety of human faces. Axel Visel of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory believes that this variation is caused by “distant acting enhancers“: non coding regions of DNA that can influence facial shape.
Visel discovered these findings by using a technique called optical projection tomography where he developed three dimensional models of mouse embryos and saw how gene expression varied the faces.
Discovering enhancers that affect face shape could be an important step in preventing or fixing conditions such as cleft palate syndrome. What do you think about this research or its implications?