“You have your mother’s eyes.”
It’s one of the most famous lines from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in which the titular hero is constantly reminded that his green eyes resemble his late parent’s. It’s a memorable motif, in part because we place much more emotional significance on the eyes than we do on other facial features. Think of it this way: would it have felt quite so profound if Harry was regularly told, “You have your mother’s nose?”
However, according to new research, the nose is the part of the face we’re most likely to inherit from our parents.
Scientists at King’s College, London found that the shape of the tip of your nose is around 66% likely to have been passed down the generations.
Next up was the philtrum, the area just below the nose and above the upper lip. (Although it’s probably safe to say that no one has ever remarked on the similarity between you and your mother’s respective philtrums.)
Cheekbones were also found to be a facial feature that’s often inherited – which explains the mirror-image bone structure of mother-daughter duos such as Vanessa Paradis and Lily-Rose Depp.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, used computer image and statistical shape analysis to show which parts of the face are more likely to be influenced by genetics.
“The notion that our genes control our face is self-evident,” says Professor Giovanni Montana from King’s College London. “Many of us have facial traits that clearly resample those of our parents, and identical twins are often indistinguishable.
“However, quantifying precisely which parts of the face are strongly heritable has been challenging so far.”
Researchers at King’s College took scans of twins’ faces using 3D cameras to generate thousands of points perfectly aligned across the face, and then measured how “curved” each face was at each of those points.
To calculate the likelihood that these facial features were determined by genetics, researchers then measured how similar these measurements were between identical genes (who have the same genes) and non-identical twins (who only share half of their genes).
They discovered that the below facial features are those most likely to be genetic:
- Shape at the end of the nose
- Area above the lips
- Inner corners of the eyes
- Area below the lips
So next time an elderly relative tells you how much you look like your mum, you can tell them that it’s probably all down to the end of your nose.
Images: Rex Features