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How do Your Fingerprints Form?

Scientists have uncovered the two proteins that determine fingerprint patterns

Everyone has unique fingerprints formed by different patterns of lines on the skin, which allow for the identification of each individual. Recently, scientists discovered two proteins whose interplay at the early stage of life is responsible for these unique patterns.  

What do we know about fingerprints?

If we examine our fingertips closely, the lines on them actually consist of bulging ridges and troughs between them. The location of ridges on our fingertips is determined very early on in life. Following this critical time in development, the pattern of ridges remains the same, and we possess the same set of fingerprints throughout our lives.

What did scientists uncover?

Using anatomical analysis, genomic screening, and cell culture, scientists investigated the long-unknown developmental pathway behind fingerprint formation. Two critical proteins were revealed: WNT, which stimulates ridge formation, and BMP, which inhibits the formation.  

The scientists found that the production of WNT in certain areas of the fingertip stimulates the production of more WNT in the area, and inhibits BMP production at nearby locations. The interplay of signals eventually generates the complete pattern of a fingerprint. Termed the “Turing reaction-diffusion system”, this effect is also observed in nature, for example with the formation of cheetah spots and zebrafish color patterns.

Why is this important?

Before this study came out, scientists relied on theoretical models to study fingerprints. Thus, this study marks the first time that the molecular mechanism underlying fingerprint formation has been uncovered with experimental data. With knowledge about BMP and WNT interaction, scientists may gain further insight into completing the whole developmental picture of fingerprints.

To learn more, click on the links below:

Nature News

Original research