Identical twins caught red-fingered

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Fingerprints are as unique as snowflakes – or so we’re taught in elementary school. Identical twins, though, provide an interesting caveat to this rule: Not only do they look alike, they are also more likely than non-twins to have similar fingerprint patterns.

These similarities raise potential complications for biometrics-based security systems and crime solvers, but a PLoS ONE paper published Friday suggests there’s no reason to worry.

The study, conducted by an international team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Iowa, looked at fingerprints from 83 pairs of identical twins. They collected each print six times, rather than the single impression that is usually collected, and used two different identification methods, called P071 and VeriFinger 6.1, and novel analytical methods to evaluate the prints. They found that identical twins’ fingerprints had a 74% probability of being the same type (though not identical), as compared to a 32% probability for a random pair of prints, but they also showed that the fingerprints could be distinguished using the sophisticated identification methods.

Based on these results, it looks like identical twins may not be the perfect criminals after all. Nevertheless, they seem to have a leg up on the rest of us – maybe something to keep in mind the next time you’re trying to solve that thorny art heist.

Citation/Image source: Tao X, Chen X, Yang X, Tian J (2012) Fingerprint Recognition with Identical Twin Fingerprints. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35704. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035704

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