“One of our research lines is understanding why we look as we do. Genetic knowledge about human appearance is relevant for health research and applications, as well as for forensic applications for which we recently received 5 million euros in funding from the European research programme ‘Horizon 2020’.

The project we run together with international partners is called VISAGE. Our goal is to develop new DNA tools and to validate and implement them for forensic applications. We want to describe a person’s appearance, age and bio-geographic ancestry, i.e. where does this person come from, from DNA traces.

Forensically, this is very important. One of the problems with current forensic DNA analysis is that it only allows us to identify people who are already known to the investigating authorities. If the DNA profile is not yet known, a perpetrator of a crime cannot be identified from DNA as currently used.

The year 2020 is key for me. By the end of that year, when the VISAGE project is almost finished, I expect a validated tool to be available for forensic applications that generates a composite sketch of a person from crime scene DNA. The outcome of such intelligent DNA testing will allow the police to focus their investigation on finding unknown perpetrators. For me this is all very exciting. I have always been interested in combining fundamental with applied research in the field of human genetics. That is what brought me to Erasmus University from Germany 13 years ago.”