Why Some People Don't Develop Fingerprints

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A fingerprint can identify you at birth, death and any time in between. But some people don’t develop unique dermal ridges on their fingers, and thus, do not have fingerprints.

In the womb, a fetus begins to form fingerprints after 24 weeks. These patterns, called dermatoglyphs, remain the same throughout most people’s lives. But researchers suspect a mutation in one gene allows some people to skip the process of forming fingerprints during development. The rare result: adermatoglyphia, or the condition of not having fingerprints.

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After looking at 16 related individuals, scientists reported a mutation in a version of the SMARCAD1 gene region associated with people who lacked fingerprints. They also found adermatoglyphia to be autosomal dominant, meaning only one parent needs to pass on the mutation for the child to show it.

As you can imagine, not having fingerprints can present challenges in countries that regularly use them for identification and travel. In fact, the condition was informally called “immigration delay disease” because of its tendency to limit travel. Interestingly, the team of researchers decided to study one Swiss woman with the condition — and her family — after she had issues entering the United States because she had no fingerprints to scan, according to one ScienceNOW article.

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It also became clear that people living with adermatoglyphia have fewer sweat glands in their hands, which might result from the mutation as well. Since SMARCAD1 might be related to cell development, it’s a good place to start when trying to understand other disorders, researchers say.

Photo by OUCHcharley/Flickr.com