Researchers in Poland and the Netherlands who developed the system dubbed HIrisPlex for forensic analysis said it is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains.
Writing in the journal Investigative Genetics, the researchers reported using teeth and bones to confirm the hair and eye color of Polish Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in 1943.
"This system can be used to solve historical controversies where color photographs or other records are missing," researcher Wojciech Branicki of the Jagielonian University in Krakow said. "HIrisPlex was able to confirm that Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943, had the blue eyes and blond hair present in portraits painted years after his death.
"Some of our samples were from unknown inmates of a World War II prison. In these cases HIrisPlex helped to put physical features to the other DNA evidence."
The system was even able to predict eye and hair color from medieval samples where the DNA is degraded, the researchers said.
They were able to identify one woman buried in the crypt of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec near Krakow between the 12th and 14th centuries as having dark blond/brown hair and brown eyes, they said.