Fingerprints don’t change over a person’s lifespan although certain wounds and injuries may disrupt the dermal papillae that rest between the outer and inner dermis. Such wounds create scar tissue that forms over the epidermis thus disturbing the continuity and the unique fingerprint pattern of the person.
This kind of mutilation is often executed deliberately by criminals to evade identification. They generally cut the fingertips, severely wound it by burning it or treating it with chemicals. However following through these methods of mutilation itself leave behind distinct patterns of scar formation which in itself becomes a strong source of identification.
Following are the possible reasons for the absence of fingerprints:-
- Medical Conditions
- Adermatoglyphia: – A rare genetic autosomal dominant disorder where in due to a point mutation in chromosome 4q22, the sufferer lacks fingerprints. This is because a gene- SMARCAD1-helicases undergoes mutation causing a person to have extremely smooth fingertips. The toes, palm and even soles lack any impressions of dermal papillae. Since people suffering from this disorder often face problems while travelling, this is also termed as ‘Immigration delay disease’.
- Ectodermal Dysplasia: – A group of about 150 identified disorders of which disorders namely, Naegeli- Franceschetti-Jadassohn Syndrome and Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis are found to be associated with a genetic predisposition of lacking fingerprints.
Both these diseases are autosomal dominant and are caused by a defect in the synthesis of Keratin 14 protein (KRT14 gene) located in the chromosome 17q12-21. It also expresses certain prominent symptoms like hyperkeratosis of palm and soles, brittle nails, lack of sweat glands, thin hair & mottled skin.
- Capecitabine Treatment
It’s a chemotherapy medication (Wong M. et al) mainly used for the treatment of breast cancer, gastric cancer and colorectal cancer. It was observed in a 62 year old male after a 3 year course of the medicine who subsequently lost his fingerprints completely (2005-2008).
- Old Age
As a person ages, their skin’s elasticity reduces gradually and the skin’s ridges become thicker. This makes the distinctive grooves of the fingers narrow and thus are no more outstanding.
- Unnatural Methods
As mentioned previously, many criminals over the years have made use of chemicals to alter the fingerprints by burning them as seen in the case of John Dillinger, a well-known American gangster of the 1900s. One of the most famously adopted methods is plastic surgery where a person’s fingerprints are surgically altered into a new set of prints or made to impersonate another’s. Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis was a gangster in the 1930s who surgically removed his fingerprints.
Significance of Fingerprints
Every case has its own set of difficulties. Where some lack evidences others face problem in narrowing down suspects. The technology of fingerprints study and the opportunity to avail and apply it to such complex forensic cases has been a real boon for the justice system.
- Due to their unique identification markers, fingerprints have been, for centuries now, used for running background checks on suspects to verify their any existing criminal record and convictions. This facilitates in determining the duration of their sentencing, parole, probation etc.
- In cases where a partial print may be obtained, it is very easy for the forensic experts to extract it and cross-reference it with their existing police database called – Automated Fingerprint Identification System. This also proves efficient in exonerating an innocent accused of committing a crime.
- In cases that deal with serial criminals (arsonists, killers), fingerprints aid the investigating officer and his/her team to link several crime scenes involving the same suspect.
- In cases of mass destruction caused by natural disasters, the officials make the use of fingerprints to identify the bodies of the victims as in most cases the bodies are mangled and badly deformed to the point of beyond recognition.
- Based on the fingerprint ridge density, it is possible to determine the sex and the racial lineage of the suspect. It has been observed that females have a higher ridge density than males.
For more information, you can refer to the following.
- Fisher, B. A. J., Tilstone, W. J., and Woytowicz, C., (2009), Introduction to Criminalistics- The Foundation of Forensic Science. Elsevier Academic Press.
- Fisher, B. A. J. and Baca, L. D., (2004), Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation- 7th Edition. CRC Press.
- Kaushal, N. and Kaushal, P., (2011), A Review on- Human Identification and Fingerprints. Journal of Biometrics and Biostatistics.
- Krishan, K., Ghosh, A., Kanchan, T., Ngangom, C. and Sen, J., (2010). Sex differences in fingerprint ridge density-causes and further observation. J Forensic Leg Med 17: 172-173.