Family Stories with Fingerprintless Genetic Heritage
施佳能 译  

Family Stories with Fingerprintless Genetic Heritage



Apu, who is 22 years old, lives with his family in a village in the northern district of Rajshahi1. He is currently working as a medical assistant. Meanwhile, his father and grandfather are farmers.




All the men in his family seem to have very rare genetic mutations2, thought to be experienced by only a small number of families around the world, that is, they don’t have fingerprints.




When his grandfather was young, not having fingerprints was not a big problem.




But in today’s modern era, the tiny grooves3 that rotate around the tip of a human finger in general, known as dermatoglyphs4, have become the world’s most widely collected biometric5 data. We use it for everything from things to do at airports to voting in elections and unlocking our smartphones.




In 2008, when Apu was a child, Bangladesh introduced a national identity card for adults with a database that required a thumbprint. The confused officers didn’t know how to process the identity card for Apu’s father, Amal Sarker. Finally, he received a card with the stamp “WITHOUT FINGERPRINT”.




In 2010, fingerprints became a mandatory requirement for passports and driving licenses (SIM6). After several tries, Amal was able to get a passport by showing a certificate from the health agency. He never used it, partly because he was afraid he might have trouble at the airport.




And although riding a motorbike was essential for farming work, he never had a driver’s license. “I’ve paid the fee, passed the exam, but they didn’t issue a permit because I couldn’t provide fingerprints,” he said.




In 2016, the government of Bangladesh made fingerprint matching with a national database mandatory for those who wish to get a SIM7 card for their cell phone.




“They looked confused when I came to buy a SIM (card), their software crashes every time I put my finger on the sensor,” said Apu with a wry smile. Apu’s desire to get a SIM card was rejected, and all male members in his family now use a SIM card issued in his mother’s name.




The rare condition experienced by the Sarker family is called Adermatoglyphia8. It first became widely known in 2007 when Peter Itin, a dermatologist9 in Switzerland, was contacted by a woman who was having trouble entering the US.




Her face matched the photo in her passport, but the customs officer could not record any fingerprints, because she did not have one. After examination, Professor Itin found that the woman and 8 members of her family had unique conditions, namely flat finger surfaces and reduced number of sweat glands10 on the hands.




Working with another dermatologist, Eli Sprecher, and graduate student Janna Nousbeck, Professor Itin looked at DNA from 16 family members. Nine of them had no fingerprints.




In 2011, the team found one gene, SMARCAD1, that was mutated in the 9 family members without fingerprints. They identified it as the cause of the rare disease. Almost nothing was known about the gene at the time. The mutations do not appear to cause any ill health effects, apart from the effects on the hands.




Once discovered, the disease was called Adermatoglyphia, but Prof. Itin dubbed11 it an “immigration delay disease”, after his first patient had difficulty getting to the US.




For the Sarker family, who is suffering from this rare condition, the community seems to be becoming more hostile12 rather than accommodating13 to their condition. Amal Sarker lived most of his life without too much trouble, he said, but he felt sorry for his children. “This is not my hand, this is something I inherited,” he said.




Recently Amal and Apu got a new type of identity card issued by the Bangladeshi government after they presented a medical certificate. The card also uses biometric data, retina14 and facial scans.




However, they still can’t buy a SIM card or get a SIM, whereas the process of getting a passport is a long and tedious15 process. “I am tired of explaining the situation again and again. I asked many people for advice, but none of them could give me a definite answer,” said Apu.




“Someone advised me to go to court. If all options fail, that’s probably what I will do.” Apu hopes he can get a passport, he said. He wants to travel outside Bangladesh. He just needs to start submitting the application.








1. 孟加拉国中西部工商业城市。


2. mutation 突变。


3. groove 纹。


4. dermatoglyph 皮纹。


5. biometric 生物统计的。


6. = Surat Izin Mengemudi[印尼]驾照。


7. = Subscriber Identity Module.


8. adermatoglyphia 皮纹病。


9. dermatologist 皮肤病专家。


10. gland 腺。


11. dub 把……戏称为。


12. hostile 敌对的。


13. accommodating 与人方便的。


14. retina 视网膜。


15. tedious 冗长的。