Today we look at the claim that a rare condition exists in which people are born without fingerprints. Is this real or hoax?
It is True. Some People are Born Without Fingerprints
There is an extremely rare genetic mutation called adermatoglyphia in which a very small number of people are born without fingerprints. In fact, only four families worldwide are known to have adermatoglyphia.
Fingerprints are actually a series of minuscule, one-of-a-kind ridges called dermatogylphs that are found on the bottoms of the fingers and toes. These dermatoglyphs begin forming around the 26th week of fetal development, and are completely developed at the time of birth. In the case of individuals with adermatoglyphia, the development of these dermatoglyphs never occurs, and the fingers, toes, palms, and soles are completely flat and unwrinkled.
Besides the lack of fingerprints, people with adermatoglyphia often also suffer from skin blisters, facial cysts, and a lack of sweat glands on the hands and feet.
In August of 2011, the New York Times featured an article on the research of Dr. Eli Sprecher, an Israeli dermatologist and geneticist with the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. A team of researchers lead by Dr. Sprecher studied the genetic code of a Swiss family known to have adermatoglyphia, and were able to trace the gene, labelled SMARCAD1, that causes the mutative condition. Apparently, individuals with adermatoglphia have a diminished adaptation of SMARCAD1 which manifests exclusively in skin mutations. It is thought that this shortened gene may affect protein development by interrupting the interweaving of ribonucleic acid (RNA), but it is unclear how this specifically affects fingerprint and sweat gland development during fetal gestation.
Results of the study were published on August 4th of 2011 in The American Journal of Human Genetics. The study can be viewed here.
Watch a 2 minute news broadcast on the study featuring an interview with Dr. Sprecher:
Sprecher and dermatologist Peter Itin – who had a patient born without fingerprints – were featured in a 2014 Smithsonian piece on adermatoglphia. Itin’s patient was having problems entering the U.S. because she could not be fingerprinted upon entering the country.
Other Conditions Causing Abnormal Fingerprints
There are two other rare conditions which result in anomalous fingerprints, Naegeli Syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR). These two diseases cause a thickening of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Growth of the teeth, hair, and skin is also adversely affected, as skin pigmentation can look spotty, while hair and teeth can be thin and fragile. As with adermatoglyphia, Naegeli Syndrome and DPR also alter sweat gland operation.
Five years before Dr. Sprecher’s study on adermatoglyphia, he was involved in a Naegeli Syndrome and DPR research collaboration between Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. The study was reported on by National Geographic in 2006. Analysis indicated that the genetic conditions were passed down maternally and may be the result of a deformity in proteins caused by inefficiency of cells to manufacture ordinary supplies of keratin 14.
Because admittance into some countries calls for fingerprinting, the trio of diseases are sometimes called “immigration delay diseases” due to the inconveniences they cause when those afflicted attempt to traverse international borders. Dr. Sprecher explains how the fingerprints of those with adermatoglyphia, Naegeli Syndrome, and DPR are different, “…instead of having a nice, regular pattern of concentric circles, you see a smear.”
As you can see from the Google Trends below, search history on this topic has been relatively consistent since 2009.
Although extremely rare, there are three genetic conditions in which people are born without fingerprints: adermatoglyphia, Naegeli Syndrome, and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR). Side effects, particularly related to the skin, accompany all three of these diseases. Adermatoglyphia appears to be caused by a shortened variant of the SMARCAD1 gene, while Naegeli Syndrome and DPR are thought to be caused by inconsistent keratin 14 production. These diseases are sometimes referred to as “immigration delay diseases” because they slow down global border crossings which require fingerprinting.
Updated September 2, 2016
Originally published August 2013