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Uniqueness of fingerprints from birth explained in academic study

Uniqueness of fingerprints from birth explained in academic study

Definitive proof that fingerprints are a unique biometric at birth has been published by a team of academic researchers in the journal Cell.

‘The developmental basis of fingerprint pattern formation and variation’ delves into the development of fingerprint ridges, showing they are epithelial structures with a spatial pattern governed by a Turing reaction-diffusion system. The structures develop similarly to hair follicles before forming into the features used as biometrics.

The development of these structures is governed by prenatal molecular and cellular mechanisms, the researchers say.

The team was made up of more than 20 researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, Durham University, Fudan University, the Czech Technical University, Cardiff University, University of Oxford, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, who has studied infant fingerprinting extensively at the University of California, San Diego, tells Biometric Update in an email that the article provides “axiomatic” proof of the uniqueness of fingerprints from the time of birth.

“Glover et al provide the missing link in our understanding of the timing and drivers of human fingerprint development,” writes Aronoff-Spencer. “Now, unlocking the cellular signaling mechanisms and infused randomness by the Turing process, we have a clearer picture of the drivers of uniqueness underlying individual fingerprint differences.  This gives further evidence that fingerprints are unique and locked from birth, yet vital gaps in biometric identification of newborns and infants remain to be filled.”

The highly technical paper explains the formation of fingerprint archs, loops, and whorls into patterns before birth, and explains the departure of skin structures from “hair placode development.” The study authors identify a particular gene involved in determining where ridge patterns are triggered, and an approximate period of prenatal development at which ridges begin to form fingerprints.

“Taken together,” they conclude, “our findings show that dermatoglyph ridges are a developmentally abbreviated ectodermal appendage, with their proverbial diversity arising from deployment of a simple molecular patterning system responsive to a set of highly variable anatomical initiation sites.”

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