University College London Scientists Find the Gray Hair Gene

Grey hairMost people are probably aware that both hair color and baldness are genetic. But apparently there is also a gene which determines the likelihood that you might go gray, and when. This, of course, contradicts the standing belief that graying occurred as a result soley of hair weakening from aging.

Researchers are saying that they discovered the gene after analyzing the genome of 6,000 people of mixed ancestry, in Latin America.

“We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color, but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density,” comments study author Kaustubh Adhikari, of University College London.

He goes on to say, “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.”

The gene, called IRF4, was already known to play a key role in determining hair color, but this is the first time it had been associated with graying.

“It has long been speculated that hair features could have been influenced by some form of selection, such as natural or sexual selection, and we found statistical evidence in the genome supporting that view,” Adhikari adds.

But he also notes that the genes they have identified (so far) probably do not work in isolation to cause various hair characteristics like graying or straightness or even the thickness of eyebrows. Of course, then, this is just the beginning of identifying what causes all of these characteristics, as well as graying.

The discovery, then, could be just the beginning of better preventive treatments to slow, delay, or, perhaps, even stop the graying process. Scientists are also saying that this discovery might improve what people understand about graying hair and, maybe even aging altogether.

The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Communications.