Fingerprints are now out of vogue. Well, not really. However, scientists have found that lip prints and fingerprints have more in common than we might think.
Both lip and fingerprints form during the embryonic stage, both are unique to each person, and both are thought to stay unchanged throughout a person's life. However, there are of course some differences between the two. For one, fingerprints are one of the things that can positively identify you, while the grooves on your lips can tell you something about your health.
Lip print patterns may be able to pinpoint genetic predispositions to cleft lip or cleft palate, which are two of the most common birth defects there are. These conditions affect one in every 700 to 1,000 babies worldwide. Researchers now aim to investigate not-so-obvious physical traits in people with these conditions in order to gain insight into the genetics of cleft lip and palate.
The different lip print patterns [Image by Kathy Neiswanger, et al.]
Cleft lip and palate develop in the early stages of a fetus's development. The fetus's face starts to form at around six weeks of age, forming facial features like the lips. If the tissues in the mouth and lip area don't develop properly, cleft lip or palate can develop instead. A cleft can make it tough for a baby to breastfeed, and can make socializing tough as well.
“[I]t all has to be coordinated and happen with a very fine degree of precision,” says oral biology professor Seth M. Weinberg about the development of the human face. “This is why clefting is so common, because there’s so many places where you can go wrong.”
But what do lip prints have to do with all this? There are certain categories of these prints based on their shape: straight lines, branches, crosshatches, and whorls. The whorl pattern was of considerable interest to the researchers. According to them, there appears to be a link between a whorl pattern—especially when it appears on the lower lip—and the likelihood of carrying a gene for orofacial disorders like clefts.
A newborn with a cleft lip.
Back in 2009, Mary Marazita, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, published a study on the association between clefts and lip whorls. Marazita and her colleagues took lip prints from 450 people, their relatives, and control subjects from three different countries. Even with a narrow definition of what a whorl was, the researchers were able to find an increase in the association between a whorl pattern and the occurrence of a cleft.
Marazita and her colleagues are continuing their study, this time including several more countries. The researchers wanted to confirm if the same association will show up even in diverse populations. Aside from lips and their prints, the researchers are also studying other features such as the musculature of the upper lip, dental characteristics, and speech patterns.
What, therefore, do the researchers hope to accomplish? By identifying the combinations of phenotypes associated with clefts, the findings can help people who may have an increased risk of producing a child with a cleft lip or palate. Just by analyzing your lip prints, researchers can see if clefts are in your gene pool.
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