Thick beards, unibrows and bald spots. Scientists have been meticulously studying genetics and how they make up our appearance and now they say they’ve discovered the first gene identified for greying hair.
In new research that looked at over 6,000 Latin Americans and their hair growth, British doctors say they’ve pieced together how genetics could explain why some people can grow bushy beards, have glossy long locks or even the dreaded unibrow.
They’ve even isolated a specific gene – called IRF4 – and how it plays a part in greying hair, along with aging, stress and environmental factors.
“We already know several genes involved in balding and hair colour but this is the first time a gene for greying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density,” lead author, Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari of University College London, said in a university statement.
“It was only possible because we analyzed a diverse melting pot of people, which hasn’t been done before on this scale. These findings have potential forensic and cosmetic applications as we increase our knowledge on how genes influence the way we look,” he said.
For his research, Kaustubh and his team looked at 6,630 volunteers from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. The group had a mixed variety of ancestry, from European to Native American and African. The scientists say that helped in getting a large variation of hair appearance.
The group’s hair was studied for shape, colour, balding and greying, while only men were tested for beard, unibrow and eyebrow thickness.
(Women couldn’t be studied because attributes like facial hair could be altered and manipulated, the study noted.)
(Photo courtesy University College London)
After comparing whole genomes to existing databases, the scientists learned that IRF4 could be the culprit behind greying hair.
It’s already known to play a role in hair colour but it’s the first time scientists are tying it to greying hair.
Another gene – called PRSS53 – could be what causes hair curliness.
Genes, such as EDAR, FOXL2, and PAX3, are tied to beard and eyebrow thickness, along with the dreaded unibrow.
But don’t blame your hairiness – or lack thereof – on genetics solely, the researchers caution.
“The genes we have identified are unlikely to work in isolation to cause greying or straight hair, or thick eyebrows, but have a role to play along with many other factors yet to be identified,” the experts say.