Understanding the genes that determine human facial shape could one day provide valuable information about person's appearance using just their DNA.
The discovery of five genes involved in facial form could have applications in forensics, say the authors of a study.
Virtually nothing was known about the genes responsible for facial shape in humans.
The study of almost 10,000 individuals is published in Plos Genetics.
Lead author Manfred Kayser from the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said: "These are exciting first results that mark the beginning of the genetic understanding of human facial morphology.