You and your doppelgänger – someone who looks exactly like you but is actually a stranger – may have similar DNA, according to a new study. Researchers in Spain used photographs by Canadian artist François Brunelle, who has been photographing conspecifics around the world since 1999, in the study.
Photographs of 16 pairs of similar people were used to measure how similar the pairs of people are using three different face recognition algorithms.
“In the case of many look-alikes, all three software gave the same results: they couldn’t tell the faces apart, they were virtual twins!” Manel Esteller, senior author of the study, said in an email to CBS News.
The lookalikes then took a biometric and lifestyle questionnaire and provided saliva samples for analysis, according to a press release.
Esteller said they tried several different components: DNA sequence or genome. the DNA methylation status or epigenome; and the bacterial and viral content of the microbiome in participants’ samples. All three components are critical in determining cell and tissue activity.
When DNA samples are uploaded to a heatmap, similar samples are grouped or “clustered”. According to the study, nine of the 16 pairs (56.2%) clustered together and were considered “extremely” similar.
“When we uploaded the DNA sequences of the lookalike to the faces and genomes of the general population, every person in the study matched their double and were no closer to any other person,” said Esteller, who works at Josep Carreras. Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain.
According to the press release, the Lookalikes shared physical characteristics such as weight and height — and even behavioral characteristics.
“It is said that our face reflects our soul,” Esteller said. With the written questionnaire, the researchers found that the lookalikes “not only shared the face, but also other characteristics beyond anthropometric characters (e.g., height, weight) and personality traits (e.g., smoking addiction, stage of education that could be related to IQ ),” Esteller said.
The researchers, who published their study in Cell Reports, said the study was limited by the sample size, which was mostly European participants. They also used 2D black and white images of the lookalikes, which poses a limitation to the study.
However, the study’s findings could be useful in the future. “These results will have future implications in forensics—reconstructing a criminal’s face from DNA—and in genetic diagnostics—taking a picture of a patient’s face will already give you clues as to what genome they have,” Esteller said in the press release. .
In his email to CBS News, Esteller said the research means facial features could potentially be used to infer the presence of genetic mutations that could cause diseases such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s.
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