Like DNA, fingerprints are unique to each person or set of identical twins. That makes them a valuable identification tool for everything from crime detection to international travel. But what happens when the tips of fingers are missing those distinctive patterns of ridges? It's not the premise for a science-fiction movie, but a real-life condition known as adermatoglyphia. It’s also known as "Immigration Delay Disease," because affected individuals experience difficulty in passing through security or checkpoints where fingerprint identification is required. Now Professor Eli Sprecher from Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has identified the genetic mutation responsible for this unusual condition. The findings were published in the August 12, 2011 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics. "Immigration Delay Disease" came to the attention of the medical community when it did just that — delay the attempts of one Swiss woman to cross the border into the United States, which requires that non-citizens be fingerprinted upon entry. Border control personnel were mystified when the woman informed them that she was unable to comply. Though an exceptionally rare condition — only four documented families are known to suffer from the disease worldwide — Professor Sprecher was inspired to delve deeper into the causes of the condition, which, in addition to causing an absence of fingerprints, also leads to a reduction in the number of sweat glands. Abnormal fingerprints can also be a warning sign of more severe disorders. Scientists know that fingerprints are fully formed 24 weeks after fertilization, and do not change throughout our lives.
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