Study finds lookalikes likely have similar DNA

You and your doppelganger — someone who looks just like you but is actually a stranger — might actually share similar DNA, according to a new study. For the study, researchers in Spain used photographs by Canadian artist François Brunelle, who has been taking photos of look-alikes worldwide since 1999.

Photos of 16 pairs of people who looked alike were used to measure how similar the pairs of people looked, using three different facial recognition algorithms.

“For many look-alikes, the three softwares gave the same result: they couldn’t tell the faces apart, they were virtual twins!” Manel Esteller, the study’s lead author, said in an email to CBS News.

According to a press release, the look-alikes then completed a biometrics and lifestyle questionnaire and also provided saliva samples for analysis.

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports.  / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports. / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Eteller said they tested several different components: DNA sequence or genome; the DNA methylation status or epigenome; and the bacterial and viral content, the microbiome in the participants’ samples. All three components are crucial for determining cell and tissue activity.

When DNA samples are uploaded to a heatmap, similar samples group or “cluster” together. According to the study, nine of the 16 couples (56.2%) hooked up and were considered “ultra” lookalikes.

“When we uploaded the doppelganger’s DNA sequences to the faces and genomes of the general population, every person in the study matched their corresponding doppelganger and was no closer to any other human,” said Esteller, who works at the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Lookalikes shared physical traits like weight and height — and even behavioral traits, according to the press release.

“They say our face reflects our soul,” Eteller said. Using the written questionnaire, the researchers found that the doppelgangers “shared not only face, but other characteristics beyond that, such as anthropometric traits (e.g., height, weight) and personality traits (e.g., tobacco addiction, level of education, which differed could relate to the intelligence quotient IQ),” said Esteller.

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports.  / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports. / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

The researchers, who published their study in Cell Reports, said the study was limited by the sample size, which consisted mostly of European participants. They also used 2D black-and-white images of the doppelgangers, which limits the study.

However, the results of the study could be useful in the future. “These findings will have future implications in forensics — the reconstruction of the criminal’s face from DNA — and in genetic diagnostics — the photograph of the patient’s face will already give you clues as to what genome he or she has,” Esteller said in the press release .

In his email to CBS News, Esteller said the research means facial features could potentially be used to infer the presence of genetic mutations that could cause diseases like diabetes or Alzheimer’s.

More photos from the study:

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports.  / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports. / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports.  / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

Photographic examples of unrelated doubles from a study published in the journal Cell Reports. / Photo credit: François Brunelle / CC BY-SA

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