Skip to comments.The Mystery of the Missing Fingerprints
Posted on 08/07/2011 12:49:25 PM PDT by neverdem
In 2007, a Swiss woman in her late 20s had an unusually hard time crossing the U.S. border. Customs agents could not confirm her identity. The woman's passport picture matched her face just fine, but when the agents scanned her hands, they discovered something shocking: she had no fingerprints.
The woman, it turns out, had an extremely rare condition known as adermatoglyphia. Peter Itin, a dermatologist at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland, has dubbed it the "immigration delay disease" because sufferers have such a hard time entering foreign countries. In addition to smooth fingertips, they also produce less hand sweat than the average person. Yet scientists know very little about what causes the condition.
Since nine members of the woman's extended family also lacked fingerprints, Itin and his colleagues, including Eli Sprecher, a dermatologist at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, suspected that the cause might be genetic. So they collected DNA from the family—one of only four ever documented with ADG—and compared the genomes of family members with ADG with those of members who had normal fingerprints. The researchers found differences in 17 regions that were close to genes. Then they sequenced these genes, expecting to identify the culprit.
But the researchers didn't find anything. At first, Sprecher suspected that either they had performed the genetic analysis incorrectly or the missing mutation was hiding in a noncoding or "junk" region of the genome. "Then came the trick," he says. When graduate student Janna Nousbeck sifted through online databases of rare DNA transcripts that came from the suspect regions, she noticed one very short sequence that overlapped with part of a gene called SMARCAD1. This gene seemed like a likely candidate for the mutation since it was only expressed in the skin.
When the researchers sequenced SMARCAD1, their suspicions were confirmed: The gene was mutated in the fingerprintless family members, but not in the other family members. The mutation isn't in a region of the gene that codes for the SMARCAD1 protein; instead it's near a key splicing site that prevents SMARCAD1 from being made correctly, the researchers report today in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
Sprecher's next mission is to find out what exactly the function of SMARCAD1 is and how it contributes to the formation of fingerprint patterns, another unsolved mystery. But the researchers think that the gene might help skin cells fold over one another early in fetal development.
Terry Reed, a molecular geneticist at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, who has also studied ADG, says that he is unsure whether SMARCAD1 is responsible for every patient who lacks fingerprints. He says he plans to sequence the gene from one of his own ADG patients. But he says that it's "gratifying to at least see a gene identified for this condition" and hopes it may help researchers understand skin development in general.
*A previous version of this story attributed the coining of the term "immigration delay disease" to Eli Sprecher. Credit instead belongs to Peter Itin. In addition, to clarify attribution, we have changed the text, "Sprecher and his colleagues suspected that the cause might be genetic," to "Itin and his colleagues, including Eli Sprecher, a dermatologist at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, suspected that the cause might be genetic."
Moral of the story: having no fingerprints makes you very easy to identify.
I rolled fingerprints for a couple of years at a friend’s CCW (concealed carry) classes. The prints do seem to go away with old age, but the worst were people who shuffled paper all day (accountants, especially). After that came drywall and concrete workers.
Yeah, I would call that a major clue.
I read a few years back, people that worked without gloves, handling the pineapple flesh and the juices, lost finger prints. Any truth to that?
I can confirm your experience. The hardest people to get prints from are little old ladies who work in their gardens.
It burned my finger prints off and made the tips crack and bleed.
When I pumped gas long before VRS my fingerprints were pretty jacked up
I recently got my CCW for Florida, my first prints did not work so had to go for a second set, sent them in, still no luck. (Could not be read)
They issued the CCW anyway after the second failure.
I guess I am one of those little old ladies who works in my garden so much.
I can see the pineapple plantation workers missing fingerprints. Bromelain (a protein-digesting enzyme) is extracted from pineapples and is used as a meat tenderizer and to remove tissue on burn patients.
I had to go in twice to have fingerprints taken for my CCW. I do stained glass & I’ve apparently burned my fingers so often the prints have become light. I was also a bookkeeper, so maybe the paper shuffling contributed. :-)
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
>> I read a few years back, people that worked without gloves, handling the pineapple flesh and the juices, lost finger prints. Any truth to that?
Could be - pineapples, especially the stalks, contain a proteolytic enzyme (which breaks down proteins). That may do it - also the fruit, I think, is slightly acidic.
>> [my prints] Could not be read. They issued the CCW anyway after the second failure.
Just so long as they issued you the CCW. If you ever have to be printed again, stay out of the garden for a week, use hand lotion liberally (even to the point of applying hand lotion and then putting on gloves before you go to bed). Oh yeah, and make the grand-kids do the dishes!
This is Dr. Eli’s office calling for Whitey Bulger. Your adult stem cell finger implant donor has been found.
Please call asap to schedule your procedure.
When our neighbor’s kids were teens, they had to be fingerprinted and they were very difficult to “read”. They were done over and over.. reason was they belonged to a swim team and worked as life guards part time. I guess all that time spent in chlorinated water made the prints less likely to be seen or printed successfully.
The last time I had to go to the FBI and get printed for a Security Clearance in 2002 the tech was having fits. Said he couldn't get any usable prints and gave up after three times. I still got my Clearance.
But in 1998 when I had to do the same thing, the nice FBI man had no problem then and the prints came out fine with one try. And I didn't do construction work, where your prints could get 'sanded off' like a bricklayer's might. I always worked in an office.
And I just looked now with a magnifying glass, they are there but very very light. Not a lot of high ridge detail.
So I guess if I ever need another SC I'll just give the FBI my DNA. ....... (riiiight)
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