Born Without Fingerprints: Scientists Solve Mystery of Rare Disorder

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
September 22, 2006

Two rare and related diseases leave their sufferers with no fingerprints. Now scientists may have cracked the genetic code behind the inherited ailments.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia report that defects in the protein keratin 14 may be responsible for both diseases, known as Naegeli syndrome and dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR).

The lack of fingerprints can cause vexing social problems, which are magnified because few people have heard of the condition.

Cheryl Maynard of Fairfax, Virginia, is part of the fifth generation of her family to have inherited DPR from her mother's side.

"My father was in the military and he had top-secret clearances," she recalled.

"We moved a lot, and everywhere we went they'd say, What do you mean your wife doesn't have fingerprints? What do you mean that you have kids without fingerprints?"

Maynard has personally experienced many fingerprint-related snafus, often related to employment.

She works as a flight attendant and noted that a standard background check by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which took about 2 weeks for most of her peers, took 14 weeks in her case.

"I applied for work at a jail facility, and they were naturally fingerprinting people who were going to be employees," she said.

"I kept hearing, Of course you have fingerprints. And five or six different technicians were telling one another, You're doing this wrong, let me do this. I have to tell them I was born without them."

"Things like that are a problem," Maynard said. "It has delayed me [from] getting jobs."

Unable to Sweat

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