Scientists solve the mystery of weird nose shapes

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What influences the size and shape of a nose? Scientists have been trying to find out for years.

There may not be a more distinctive facial feature than the nose, and scientists have been studying what makes noses so different for quite some time. As we recently reported, a study from researchers at University College London had identified four genes that influence the width and ‘pointiness’ of the human nose.

The genes, called GLI3, RUNX2, DCH2 and PAX1 each played a role in shaping a person’s nose. Scientists studied a group of nearly 6,000 people from Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Chile and Mexico as a part of the CANDELA study, which seeks to examine the biological diversity among the inhabitants of Latin America.

Researchers analyzed and created 3D reconstructions of 3,000 of the participants’ facial features. When they looked at these images alongside the genomes of the participants, they were able to identify the four key genes that appeared to affect the shape and pointiness of the peoples’ noses.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, builds off years of previous research that sought to determine just how noses and faces in general come to look the way they do.

A team of German scientists published a 2011 study that suggested climate played a role in the shape of facial features in certain populations. Researchers compared 100 skulls from ten groups living in five different climates.

The study suggested a correlation between nose shapes and both temperature and the amount of moisture in the air. People from colder climates tended to have narrower nasal passages, which provided more contact between air and mucosal tissue – warming and humidifying it in the process.

The recent study was large in scope compared with previous efforts, and offers fascinating insights into the way genetics play a role in something as simple as a nose. According to a statement from lead author Dr. Kaustubyh Adhikari from UCL Cell & Developmental Biology, “Few studies have looked at how normal facial features develop and those that have only looked at European populations, which show less diversity than the group we studied. What we’ve found are specific genes which influence the shape and size of individual features, which hasn’t been seen before.”

A press release describing the details of the study can be found here.

Daniel J. Brown

Daniel J. Brown (Editor-in-Chief) is a recently retired data analyst who gets a kick out of reading and writing the news. He enjoys good music, great food, and sports, with a slant towards Southern college football, basketball and professional baseball.

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