Researchers in London have revealed that the reasons for diversity in human hair are far more numerous than previously thought.
A team from King’s College London and Erasmus university in Rotterdam discovered that 124 genes — 100 more than previously known — play a major role in determining hair colour.
This could help doctors better understand conditions linked to pigmentation, such as skin, testicular, prostate and ovarian cancers and vitiligo, which causes white “patching” of the skin.
It could even assist forensic scientists in detecting the hair colour of criminals from DNA samples found at crime scenes.
Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College, joint lead author of the study, said: “Our work helps us to understand what causes human diversity in appearance by showing how genes involved in pigmentation subtly adapted to external environments and even social interactions during our evolution.
The study, in the journal Nature Genetics, asked 300,000 people to describe their natural hair colour and compared this with their genetic information held in the UK Biobank and other sources. One quirk of the research was that more women described themselves as blonde than those who were found to be naturally blonde.
The researchers found that the new genes were more accurate than those already known in predicting hair colour. Professor Spector said: “As the largest-ever genetic study on pigmentation, it will improve our understanding of diseases like melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.
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