While the fashion industry has seen a shift in the last couple of years with grey hair becoming “in,” most people both male and female shriek at the discover of their first grey hair. While it may make men feel more distinguished, it’s still a challenging site. But it’s possible that future generations looking to avoid this rite of passage will now be able to do just that.
Grey hair gene located, can it be turned off?
Grey hair, quite simply, is caused by reduced levels of melanin as people grow older. Additionally, melanin levels determine what type of blonde you’ll be and who is the darker brunette.
However, the grey hair gene has been discovered by researchers at University College London recently and the team responsible believe it’s only a matter of time before we can design drugs or even cosmetics to flip the switch on the gene.
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Tens of millions of dollars a year are spent on over-the-counter hair dyes worldwide each year , and much of this to get rid of the grey. I’m not saying that the this was the team’s primary reason for looking for the grey hair gene but it couldn’t hurt.
Scientists have known about the gene IRF4 and its role in hair color for some time but this international team is the first to successfully link the gene to going grey. The team recently published its findings in the journal Nature Communications.
“We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color 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,” said lead author, Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, UCL Cell & Developmental Biology.
“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.
“Preventing grey hair is a possibility and even reversing grey hair might not be impossible. Once we know more about the pigmentation process, and all the genes involved it should be easy to find a protein or enzyme to up-regulate or down-regulate the activity.”
How the findings were revealed
In order to make the link, the team analyzed the DNA of nearly 7,000 volunteers in the Latin American countries of Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. The geographic study group was chosen for its mixed ancestry of European, Native American and African roots and thus afforded great variation in hair color and appearance.
Physical observations of hair color were observed and logged and then genome analysis were undertaken to locate the gene that was causing the grey.
“We have found the first genetic association to hair greying, which could provide a good model to understand aspects of the biology of human aging, said Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, UCL Biosciences, who led the study.
“Understanding the mechanism of the IRF4 greying association could also be relevant for developing ways to delay hair greying.”
In addition to the graying gene, the researchers identified other genes that have a tremendous effect on personal appearance. For example, EDAR was found to be responsible for the growth of a full beard while FOXL2 determines eyebrow thickness.
It will be interesting to see how pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies use this information going into the future.