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Researchers Discover First Gray Hair Gene

Grey Hair Head
Image via Pixabay

Have you ever wondered why people’s hair turns gray sooner than others? Well researchers have discovered a variant gene that determines who is more susceptible to receiving their first gray hair and it’s partly down to our parents.

Geneticists at University College London have conducted research in a broad range of people from fair-haired Europeans to the dark-haired characteristics of Native and African-Americans. In the study published in Nature Communications, researchers discovered a variant gene named IRF4 that is responsible for a person’s first gray hair and it seems to be more prevalent in people with lighter-colored or blonde hair. Kaustubh Adhikari, the lead author in the study, indicates that if one or both of your parents are blonde then turning gray would be an “unintended consequence”.

You would sort of think of hair graying as an unintended consequence of selecting for this hair color

Gray hair is the absence of melanin which is the pigment in hair that gives chestnut and golden shades of color. As we get older the color produced in the hair follicles start to slow down and turn gray. According to NPR, the researchers have found that people of African or Asian descent are less likely to turn gray. Adhikari, says “we just haven’t found them yet” when talking about the gene variant in genetically darker-haired people.

You would expect that they would have genes that influence graying [but] we just haven’t found them yet.

The findings further show how our genes influence us. As reported over at CNN, the good news is that discovering this gene variant could help with developing a possible drug to stop or slow down premature graying in the future. Despite IRF4 playing havoc with our tresses, it can’t take all the blame. It is still only responsible for 30 percent of factors contributing to premature graying. Environmental factors such as sun, smoking, pollution and stress make up the other 70 percent.

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