Skip To Content
The Schmooze

Why Are Some People Born Without Fingerprints?

With all the heightened security and anti-terrorism measures in place these days, we are all pretty sick of bureaucratic problems at border crossings. But people with “Immigration Delay Disease,” however, face a unique challenge when traveling from one country to another.

Those with “Immigration Delay Disease” (its scientific name is adermatoglyphia) have no fingerprints. In fact, they don’t have dermatoglyphs, or ridges, on their palms, toes or soles of their feet, either. Aside from confounding border crossing officials and police detectives, this condition has also confounded the medical and scientific community.

But now, researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Eli Sprecher, have worked with colleagues at the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, to solve the mystery of the missing fingerprints.

It turns out that only four families worldwide have been documented as having this rare genetic condition. The TAU team and their collaborators ended up studying a particular Swiss family, because a woman from it was identified as having adermatoglyphia when she said she could not comply with U.S. law when she was told that non-citizens had to be fingerprinted upon entry to the country (hence, “Immigration Delay Disease”).

Although it has long been known that fingerprints are formed on a fetus’s skin by 24 weeks gestation, the underlying mechanism for normal — or abnormal — finger print development has not been understood. A genetic analysis of the Swiss family revealed that an alteration of the gene SMARCAD1 causes this unusual condition.

Adermatoglyphia is not life threatening, nor do doctors think that it is related to or a sign of any major medical problems in a person with the condition. But genetic discoveries on the protein level, such as this one, can lead to successful related research.

The only significant side effect to having “Immigration Delay Disease” is an accompanying reduction in the number of sweat glands. Border crossing security personnel must love these people — they can’t get any prints off them, nor can they assess their state of agitation by how much they’re sweating.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.