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Human brain as individual as fingerprints, new research shows

By Nilima Marshall

All human brains are structurally different - just like fingerprints, says new research.

An analysis of 200 brains has revealed that certain anatomical characteristics of the body's central switchboard are unique to an individual.

A team of psychologists at the University of Zurich, who conducted the research, say this uniqueness is the result of "a combination of genetic factors and individual life experiences".

Led by Dr Lutz Jancke, a professor at the university's department of psychology, researchers scanned the brains of healthy people using magnetic resonance imaging over two years.

They analysed more than 450 anatomical features in individual brains, including thickness of the cortex and volumes of grey and white matter, as well as the total volume of the brain.

The researchers said they were able to identify "an individual combination of specific brain anatomical characteristics" in the participants' brains with 90% accuracy.

Their findings follow a previous study by the same team where the researchers found that individual experiences and life circumstances shaped brain anatomy.

Examples include professional musicians, golfers and chess players, who were demonstrated to have unique characteristics in the regions of the brain that they used the most for their skilled activities.

Dr Jancke said: "We suspected that those experiences having an effect on the brain interact with the genetic make-up so that over the course of years every person develops a completely individual brain anatomy.

"With our study we were able to confirm that the structure of people's brains is very individual.

"The combination of genetic and non-genetic influences clearly affects not only the functioning of the brain, but also its anatomy."

But the researchers are quick to add that replacing fingerprint sensors with MRI scans in future is unlikely, although strides have been made in neuroscience research.

Dr Jancke said: "Just 30 years ago we thought that the human brain had few or no individual characteristics.

"Personal identification through brain anatomical characteristics was unimaginable."

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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