Fingerprints are one of the human bodies most intriguing attributes. But can you be born without fingerprints? A study conducted on a family in Switzerland says you can.
We talked a bit about fingerprints and how they have been used in solving crime in the post When Were Fingerprints First Used in Law Enforcement. But what kind of impact would it have on law enforcement if people were being born without any fingerprints at all. For the criminal this would probably be a dream come true.
What is Adermatoglyphia Disease
There is a rare disease known as adermatoglyphia that causes some people to be born without any fingerprints. But this disease is so rare that there are only four families in the world that are known to be afflicted with it. Adermatoglyphia is also known as “immigration-delay disease” due to how difficult it is to conduct international travel without any fingerprints.
A study was done on one of these families in Switzerland by a dermatologists named Eli Sprecher. He sequenced the DNA of this large family and the results showed that seven of the sixteen family members had perfectly normal fingerprints, while the other nine members all suffered from adermatoglyphia disease, which meant they had no fingerprints.
Sprecher did extensive research on several different genes on their profile looking for any sign of mutation in hopes of discovering the cause for this rare disease. But unfortunately he did not find anything helpful that would shed light on this abnormality.
Adermatoglyphia and the SMARCAD1 Gene
It wasn’t until a Grad Student discovered the problem gene that the mystery began to unfold. He discovered that the gene SMARCAD1 had a smaller version of itself, it was this smaller version that affected only the skin. So armed with this information re-testing of the nine family members with adermatoglyphia revealed that they all had mutations in that particular gene.
According to the scientists, simply one gene being turned on or off isn’t enough to cause someone to be born without fingerprints, there has to be a mutation present which would render copies of the SMARCAD1 gene useless.
Although this was a major breakthrough in discovering the answer to this riddle, there are many other factors that could affect fingerprint development while in the womb. And of course there’s a lot more research that needs to happen to enlighten science as to how these other factors play into all this.
Other Conditions that May Result in Missing Fingerprints
Naegeli syndrome and Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis are other possible culprits that could lead to being born without fingerprints. But these conditions are caused by issues with the keratin-14 protein rather than a gene mutation.
The main difference with these conditions, in contrast with Adermatoglyphia, is that they come with many other critical symptoms such as the thickening of skin as well as problems with nail formation. Immigration-delay disease(adermatoglyphia) doesn’t really come with any other harmful symptoms, but those afflicted with it have reported not being able to sweat as much as someone not carrying the disease. But other than that, the carriers are pretty much normal and healthy.
With the help of the Swiss family this mystery is a little closer to being understood. And for all you cat burglars out there don’t get your hopes up, this isn’t something you can harvest in a lab. So you may want to stick to wearing gloves for now.