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News - Scientists begin search for DNA that gives us our looks

5th December 2002

Whether it was your destiny to be tall or short, blonde or redheaded, fair or olive-skinned, it's no secret that your genes made you that way. But exactly what parts of DNA determine people's physical characteristics is still a mystery to scientists, and one that researchers based at QUT are trying to solve. Scientists at the QUT-based Cooperative Research Centre for Diagnostics will today (Thursday, December 5) begin blood-testing members of the public in an Australian-first study to find which parts of our DNA make us look the way we do. Some distinctive people - including a 203cm (6'8") basketballer and two women from Blush Models - will be on hand to help researchers understand the genetic secrets behind height and hair colour. QUT senior research fellow Dr Angela van Daal said, if successful, the study could open up a new realm of possibilities for medical diagnosis and forensic investigation. "In a few years' time, a hair or body fluid left at a crime scene could tell us the perpetrator's height, nose size, skin colour, eye colour and other physical characteristics," Dr van Daal said. "It would be like having an eye-witness to point investigators in the right direction, and would be invaluable where police did not have a suspect." Dr van Daal said the research also had the potential to identify genes that made some people more vulnerable to diseases such as skin cancer. "If we can find a gene that makes people especially vulnerable to conditions such as skin cancer, it would then be easy to test people for the presence of that gene," Dr van Daal said. "This would allow people to find out if they are particularly susceptible and then to take extra precautions every day." Dr van Daal said the research team was looking for 1,000 members of the public to take part in the research. She said the team was looking for anyone who had stand-out physical characteristics, such as being very tall or short or having an uncommon complexion (eg. blue eyes and very dark hair, or red or blonde hair). "Almost everyone has a number of outstanding features, so really anyone over 18 could take part in the research and be of help to us," Dr van Daal said. She said volunteers would need to be prepared to give a small blood sample and answer a quick questionnaire. "We will then analyse all the blood samples from people who share a characteristic and try to find what their DNA has in common," Dr van Daal said. Dr van Daal said the study had received ethical clearance from QUT and that all blood samples would be used anonymously. Prospective volunteers can call 07 3864 2502 or 07 3864 2567. --- ends --- Media can photograph/film the first volunteers and interview Dr van Daal at 12 noon on Level 6 of Q Block on QUT's Gardens Point campus. For more information or to arrange parking on campus call Margaret Lawson on 07 3864 2130 or 0419 643 243.

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