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Genes discovered for red-headedness

17 December 2018
Appeared in BioNews 980

The largest study of the genetics of hair colour has identified eight genes linked to redheadedness. 

Previous research had suggested that just one gene was responsible for red hair. It was thought that if a child inherited a copy of the MC1R genetic variant from both parents, they would have ginger hair. However, genomic data from 350,000 people who took part in a UK Biobank study found that eight previously unknown genes were linked to red hair. 

Professor Albert Tenesa, of the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, said: 'We are very pleased that this work has unravelled most of the genetic variation contributing to differences in hair colour among people.'

The research found that the majority of people with two MC1R copies in fact had blonde or light brown hair. The eight newly identified genes contributed around 90 percent of the heritability of red hair. 

In addition, the research revealed that there were nearly 200 genes related to blonde and brown hair. 

The research focused on people of white British ancestry because of their greater variation in hair colour, the researchers said. 

'Once again, collaborative research is helping to provide answers to some of life's important questions,' said Melanie Welham, executive chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which funded the research. 

'[The study] has provided some fascinating insights into what makes us such distinct individuals.'

The research was published in Nature Communications

Gene study unravels redheads mystery
BBC |  11 December 2018
Genome-wide study of hair colour in UK Biobank explains most of the SNP heritability
Nature Communications |  10 December 2018
Hair colour gene study sheds new light on roots of redheads' locks
Science Daily |  10 December 2018
How do redheads inherit their ginger locks? Scientists uncover the truth in largest ever DNA hair study
The Independent |  12 December 2018
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