Genetics of family with no fingerprints

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After sequencing the DNA of one of only four known families in the world to have a rare medical condition called adermatoglyphia, which leaves them without fingerprints, Eli Sprecher and his colleagues at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center identified the genetic mutation that causes the condition. According to research the group published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, nine out of 16 members of the family lacked fingerprints and all had mutations of a gene called SMARCAD1, which in its smaller form is only expressed in skin. Those nine individuals are also career criminals. Just kidding. From National Geographic:
The condition is also called immigration-delay disease, since a lack of fingerprints makes it difficult for people to cross international borders...

Other inherited diseases that result in a lack of fingerprints—such as Naegeli syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis—are caused by problems with the protein keratin-14.

These conditions "manifest not only with lack of fingerprints, but also with a number of other critical features—a thickening of the skin, problems with nail formation," Sprecher said.

By contrast, immigration-delay disease doesn't come with any side effects besides a minor reduction in the ability to sweat. In general, people with the disease "are otherwise completely healthy, like you and me."

"Mutated DNA Causes No-Fingerprint Disease"


  1. Man, imagine that: every time there’s a crime scene where no fingerprints can be found, you’re automatically the prime suspect!

  2. Fascinating! Another instance of something I took to be universal but come to find that a handful (heh, sorry) of folks differ!
    But calling it “immigration-delay disease”? Gimme a break.

  3. You know that none of them became bank robbers. Whatta waste! People pay a lot of money for that kinda thing!

    1. Consider how often fingerprints are used now.  Where I live, teachers are fingerprinted if they’ve ever lived out of state, and I had to be fingerprinted for my job because I deal with financial data.  So yeah, it’s not a “disease” in that there’s restriction of movement, sensory impairment, etc, but it’s got to be a pain in the neck.

  4. Even lacking fingerprints, those people can be identified.  It is very unlikely that the creases you can see in that picture are the same in any two people.  When they take fingerprints for law enforcement, they include much more than the tip of the finger anyway.  

    I’d bet one of the biggest inconveniences of the condition is reduced grip on slippery objects, like a water glass on a humid day.

    1. “I’d bet one of the biggest inconveniences of the condition is reduced
      grip on slippery objects, like a water glass on a humid day.”

      The same exact thing suddenly occurred to me. Everyone is focused on fingerprint with regards to identification and law enforcement.

      1. I was about to ask if you can really call it a disease if the only “downside” is the ability to commit crimes without fear of identification, and then i read this post. 

        and then i went back and read the article and learned these people also have trouble sweating.

        moral of the story: RTMFA. (directed at me, not you)

  5. It would be nice if this was an evolutionary advantage and it spread like wildfire through the rest of the population.  However I suspect the cumulative years spent explaining their condition to officialdom means it’s (sadly) a disadvantage.

  6. I don’t think I have this condition, but there’s something going on with my hands that prevents accurate fingerprints from being taken. While I do have faintly visible fingerprint lines, they are interrupted by deeper, vertical and horizontal channels–indentations or ‘fold lines’ on my fingertips that cut across the normal whorls. It’s almost like I’ve been in a bathtub too long, but all the time. Permanent prune fingers.   

    Since childhood the skin on my fingertips has peeled off periodically (maybe every year or so my fingertips shed like a snake for a couple of weeks). I’ve been to a dermatologist and used all sorts of creams but nothing really helps. I think the peeling must have something to do with my fingerprint problem. Almost like scarring or something, although the lines don’t quite look like scars.  It’s not a big deal, except on the rare occasion when I have had to submit fingerprints (I’m a teacher and had to get a background check once.). 

    Anyway- maybe there’s a dermatologist out there would could give me a hint. This doesn’t happen to anyone else in my family, btw so my first guess wouldn’t be genetic.

  7. Genetic mutation is not the same as disease. Go read Canguilhem: The Normal and the Pathological.

  8. Sometimes, medical science makes me laugh.
    No disrespect intended to those afflicted. And kudos to these geneticists who are advancing actual knowledge of the condition.
    But even a slight understanding etymology can make the scene in a primary care physician’s or low level specialist’s office funny. Forgive the mangling, IANAE (E=etymologist)
    a- : as in “lacking,” or “without”
    -dermato- : as in relating to the skin
    -glyphia: the condition of patterns or symbols
    “Doctor, Doctor! I have no fingerprints!”
    “Ah yes… you are suffering from adermatoglyphia!”
    is just fancy speak for
    “Doctor Doctor! I have no fingerprints!”
    “Ah yes… you are suffering from having no fingerprints!”

  9. I have a rare form o’ psoriasis that leaves me with no fingerprints for about eight months a year.  There are only two downsides to living print-free: first, things fly out of your hands very easily.  Fingerprints are an amazing adaptation for hanging on to things, other than by sheer main force.  Certain textures, such as the satin-finished plastic found on phones and remote controls, might as well be greased.
    Second, I was once asked by a person taking my fingerprints to ‘try harder’ when they wouldn’t come out.  You don’t want to have to explain to anybody in a position to take your fingerprints that you haven’t got any.  It’s kind of a red flag.

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