Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Fascinating Fingerprints
29 July 2013

Fascinating Fingerprints

Our fingerprints are unique, and not even identical twins share the same prints. They’ve been used by people making their mark for thousands of years – as well as their more recent use in crime fighting and identification – and appear while we’re still in the womb. Yet very little is known about how our fingerprints form. The skin on our fingertips is made of two main layers – the epidermis on top, and the dermis beneath. Researchers currently think that as a foetus develops, the epidermis grows faster than the dermis. This makes it fold and buckle, forming a ridged pattern shaped by swirling forces inside the womb. There’s one genetic clue too. People with a faulty version of a gene called SMARCAD1 have no fingerprints, making life difficult for them at border crossings. But exactly how the gene is involved in shaping fingerprints remains a scientific mystery.

Written by Kat Arney

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