NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 4:41 PM
Scientists have finally identified the source to gray hair.
A new study of the genomes of more than 6,000 Latin Americans helped scientists identify, for the first time, the specific genes that lead to gray hair, unibrows and beard thickness. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, focused on a population with a mixed ancestry of European (48%), Native American (46%) and African descent (6%).
One of the genes identified was IRF4, which produces melanin, the pigment that determines hair color. The other two genes associated with hair thickness and unibrows are FoxI2 and PAX3.
Andres Ruiz-Linares, a biosciences professor at University College London and a co-author of the paper, said that gene information could be very interesting to the cosmetic industry.
“Identifying these genes puts forward targets that the industry might want to exploit,” he said.
Ruiz-Linares said this gene is mostly found in Europeans, about 15% carry it. However, Native Americans don’t carry it. This gene doesn’t guarantee a specific trait, but it makes graying more likely.
“It’s not like have that gene variant so you’re certain to have gray hair,” Ruiz Linares said. “No. It basically increases your chances relative to the general population.”
The study not only identified the IRF4 gene, but it also influences disciplines in criminal forensics and anthropology. This gene could help experts reconstruct physical appearance from DNA. The hair thickness genes are also valuable in structural development.
“There’s always an interest in trying to predict what these people that lived a very long time ago looked like,” Ruiz-Linares said.