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VISAGE: Visible attributes through genomics

The VISible Attributes Through GEnomics (VISAGE) Consortium consists of 13 partners from academic, police and justice institutions of eight European countries, and brings together forensic genetic researchers and forensic DNA practitioners, statistical geneticists and social scientists to achieve the project aims.

This project receives funding from Horizon 2020 European Union Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Secure Societies Challenge. €349,083 of this is used to fund the work package based at King's. 


Through the VISAGE Consortium, we aim to overcome the general limitation of current forensic DNA analysis by broadening forensic DNA evidence towards constructing composite sketches of unknown perpetrators from as many biological traces and sources and as fast as possible within current legal frameworks and ethical guidelines.


The VISAGE Consortium will:

  1. Allocate previous and establish new DNA predictors for as detailed as possible information on appearance, age and ancestry.
  2. Develop and forensically validate prototype tool(s) based on massively parallel sequencing(MPS) for simultaneous analysis of the identified DNA predictors of appearance, age and ancestry suitable for trace DNA.
  3. Design an integrated interpretation framework including a prototype software for combined statistical consideration of the appearance, age, and ancestry DNA information delivered by the MPS tool(s), while responsibly considering a privacy-by-design approach and the relevant legal situation in EU Member States.
  4. Identify and analyse the main challenges for, and make recommendations on, the legally, ethically and socially responsible implementation of constructing composite sketches from DNA for forensic use in EU Member States.
  5. Implement the developed VISAGE Toolkit for constructing composite sketches from DNA traces in the routine forensic DNA service environment, thereby meeting the requested technical readiness level(TRL) 5.
  6. Train the different target groups on the technical, interpretation, societal and regulatory issues of constructing composite sketches from DNA traces in forensic applications, and disseminate the major project outcomes to the relevant target groups and the wider public. Existing VISAGE contacts with global industry leaders in the field of forensic DNA products will aim at further developing the prototype outcomes into commercial products for future widespread application in routine forensic casework in the EU Member States and beyond.

Summary of Findings

The work packages based at King’s College London have produced to two Deliverables.

  • Deliverable 5.1: The regulatory landscape of forensic DNA phenotyping in Europe, describes how the European Union’s legal and regulatory framework, along with the legal and regulatory frameworks of eight European countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and The United Kingdom, accommodate the use of a new forensic DNA technology, forensic DNA phenotyping. This report also provides a basic overview of the legal permissibility and practice of forensic DNA phenotyping in all other EU member states, as well as other countries of interest, namely the United States, South Africa and Australia (
  • Deliverable 5.2: Societal, ethical, and regulatory dimensions of constructing composite sketches from DNA for forensic applications, reviews the scientific, ethical, and grey literature, and the collection of data from interviews with stakeholders in VISAGE partner countries to identify challenges for the implementation of forensic DNA phenotyping in an ethical and societally responsible manner. It also includes a societal impact analysis of forensic DNA phenotyping using the toolkit developed by the ASSERT-consortium (Assessing Security Research: Tools and methodologies to measure societal impact) with a special focus on privacy- and other data protection-related aspects.


VISAGE is having an impact on research policy and policy making on forensic DNA phenotyping in VISAGE partner countries and beyond.

Project status: Ongoing