Six Uncommon Facts About Fingerprinting

There are a few things everyone knows about fingerprints, like that criminals sometimes burn them off to avoid being identified during fingerprinting, or that everyone has a unique pattern. But these six facts about prints aren’t known by most.

Some People Don’t Have Them

There are three genetic conditions that can prevent the formation of any identifying marks on someone’s fingers: Naegeli-Franceschetti-Jadassohn syndrome (NFJS), Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR), and adermatoglyphia. Unfortunately, while a lack of prints is not ideal, it’s also not the worst symptom associated with these disorders.

Fingerprinting Isn’t Foolproof

It’s comforting to think investigators can always catch the bad guy if he forgets to wear gloves to a crime scene. The truth is, the method of identification is not always foolproof. There’s no minimum of comparison points for a match in the United States, not to mention the fact that humans are fallible. In 2011, a study found that there was a 0.1 false positive rate, which means that there are possibly 60,000 false IDs.

They Have an Interesting Origin Story

Ever wonder why humans have these markings at all? Well, it’s the result of the development that begins while we are in utero. It’s currently believed that prints grow at a different rate from the rest of the skin on the hands, which makes it pull at the dermis and results in the strange patterns that make identities so distinct. Essentially, multiple layers of skin get bent and twisted together and result in this strange and unique marker.

Other Animals Have Them

Humans aren’t the only mammals to carry this unique genetic marker. In fact, humans are in the company of gorillas, chimpanzees, and koalas. Science suggests that this may be a result of living in trees, which may explain the genetic development. In fact, koalas’ prints are so similar to humans’ that even the best experts have had a hard time distinguishing them from one another.

They Can Be Erased

Some conditions or professions may find people losing their markers. Certain jobs like repetitive bricklaying may wear them away, and some chemotherapy drugs like capecitabine can result in a reduction or erasure of the markings altogether. In fact, even a strong case of poison ivy can erase them, but they would return eventually.

There Are Some Grisly Attempts to Remove Them

Removing prints is not as easy as it may seem. In the 1930s, fingerprinting became so common that criminals were determined to avoid being identified by them. This included methods such as filing them off, burning them off with acid, or cutting them off entirely. In the case of one robber, Robert Phillips, he talked a doctor into grafting skin from his chest onto his fingers. However, the prints on his palms gave him away.

When it comes to these unique genetic markers, part of the mystery is all of the history and strange genetics associated with them.

 

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