The fingerprintless family
A beneficial evolutionary mutation?
Published: 9 February 2021 (GMT+10)
In the modern theory of evolution, mutations in the genome are a key driving force in creating new information. In reality though most mutations are either harmful, or neutral at best. A recent BBC news story has highlighted a family in Bangladesh which have no fingerprints due to a mutation.1 Is this evolution in action or an example of a harmful mutation?
What are fingerprints?
Dermatoglyphs are the ridges of whorls, loops and arches that form on your fingers, palms, soles and toes. Every person’s patterns are unique to them, and do not change no matter how old they become. The ridges on the fingers in particular, fingerprints, have been used to solve criminal investigations, with the first conviction based on fingerprint evidence taking place in 1892 in Argentina.2 More recently fingerprints have been widely used in a range of biometric authentication technologies, such as passports, electronic payments, or even opening/unlocking your phone.3
A rare genetic condition called Adermatoglyphia prevents the development of the ridges, leaving the skin flat. While the condition was first discovered in 2007, it wasn’t until 2011 that a mutation in one gene, SAMRDAD1, was identified as being the cause.4 However:
‘“Nobody knew anything about [the gene]”, said Professor Eli Sprecher, one of the researchers involved – hence the years it took to find it. Plus, the mutation affected a very specific part of the gene, he said, “which apparently had no function, in a gene of no function”.’1
It was only by studying Adermatoglyphia that the gene was discovered to have a specific function relating to the mechanisms that regulate the formation of fingerprints.5
Beneficial or harmful?
While a number of movies may depict criminals removing their fingerprints to try and avoid detection (ignoring other forensic investigative opportunities), the reality of being without finger prints in the modern age makes life rather difficult. The BBC news article interviewed the Sarker family, living in the northern district of Rajshahi, Bangladesh, who appear to have carried the genetic mutation for at least three generations. While only a few decades ago the condition had little effect on their everyday life, this is not the case for them now.
In Bangladesh fingerprints are now required to obtain a National ID card, passport, driver’s licence, etc., and even a SIM card for a mobile phone. Due to having no fingerprints the men have had significant difficulty in obtaining some documents and are completely unable to obtain others. The male members of the family even have to use SIM cards issued in the name of one of their female family members (she does have fingerprints) as they are unable to obtain one themselves. Adermatoglyphia, has also been called the “immigration delay disease” due to people with the condition being delayed in airports as custom officers were not able to obtain any fingerprints.
While the condition does present real difficulties in societies in which fingerprints are essential to participating in everyday life, it also has physiological disadvantages. It is known to reduce the number of sweat glands in the hand, making perspiration more difficult. Additionally, in three of the families documented to have Adermatoglyphia, “additional features such as congenital facial milia [small cysts under the skin], skin blisters, and fissures associated with heat or trauma were reported.”4
Such an example does nothing to help the evolutionary story which requires that a random DNA mutation causes new and useful information/structures to arise de novo. Rather, it serves as yet another example of a downhill loss of function, which, as society relies more and more on biometric authentication technologies, makes life all the more difficult for those with the condition. Our DNA was written by the Master Designer and is an incredibly complex, four dimensional biochemical computer operating system. However genetic entropy has been acting upon all life since the Fall, when God responded to human rebellion in the Garden of Eden by implementing the Curse (Genesis 3).
Our daily aches, pains, tragedies, and ultimately our deaths, are reminders that our bodies will one day break down and give up completely. However, God has offered us eternal life, through Jesus Christ, who conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection, so that all those who repent and believe in Him can be saved. This is good news to all people.
References and notes
- Sabbir, M., The family with no fingerprints, bbc.co.co.uk, 26 December 2020. Return to text.
- Wills, M., Fingerprints and crime, daily.jstor.org, 8 June 2018. Return to text.
- Fingerprint authentication is now used on many Android devices and iPhones (termed Touch ID). Return to text.
- Nousbeck, J., and seven others, A mutation in a skin-specific isoform of SMARCAD1 causes Autosomal-Dominant Adermatoglyphia, AJHG 89(2):302-307, 12 August 2011. Return to text.
- Stomberg, J., Adermatoglyphia: The genetic disorder of people born without fingerprints, smithsonianmag.com, 14 January 2014. Return to text.