The no-fingerprint mystery has been solved

Fingerprints lie at the heart of the forensic research. Now imagine, if you were to come across a criminal without any fingerprints, how difficult would that make it for the administration? It is not widely known, but there are health disorders that may cause people to be born without fingerprints. The finger tips can be as smooth as a dish surface. Two rare and related diseases leave their sufferers with no fingerprints. After being in a fog of mystery, scientists may have cracked the genetic code behind these inherited ailments.

Sufferers of two rare congenital diseases, Naegeli Syndrome and Dermatopathia Pigmentosa Reticularis (DPR), have long endured these symptoms which include not being able to sweat, having thickened palms and soles, and finally, having no fingerprints. Researchers have found that the same genetic mutation causes both Naegeli syndrome and DPR.

The mutation produces a defect in the protein keratin 14 (KRT14) and causes skin cells to be inappropriately targeted for programmed cell death (or apoptosis). The finding suggests that the two disorders, which were previously thought to be distinct, might actually be one. Another defect in the same gene is known to cause a third, very different disease. The new finding suggests that there is not just one gene for each genetic disorder.

In the late 1980s, a team of researchers began collecting and analyzing DNA samples from 25 members of these five families. Near the turn of the century, advances in gene mapping enabled the researchers to narrow down the location of the responsible gene to a single chromosome. What surprised the researchers most was that a mutation in KRT14 had already been linked to another genetic disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa Simplex (EBS), which doesn’t resemble Naegeli syndrome or DPR.

In Naegeli syndrome and DPR, the mutations seem to prevent KRT14 from playing its normal role in preventing cell death. Unfortunately for those who suffer such ailments, a cure is not at hand. Researchers are also pondering the protein’s connection with programmed cell death, information that could someday help with many skin disorders. Programmed cell death, a form of cellular suicide, is the way that cells typically expire when the useful phase of their existence is complete. The process is often disabled in cancer cells, allowing them to live and proliferate.

With the new found information, scientists hope to find a way to the cure of this highly eccentric and complex disorder. If there are connections between these disorders and Cancer, finding inroads to Naegeli syndrome and DPR could also help in Cancer research.

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