Redheads rejoice! Not only is it a myth that they are going to go extinct within the next generation, but scientists may have found evidence that their fiery locks may also hold the secret to a genetic fountain of youth.
According to a research study organized by Unilever and the Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, mutations in the human genome that affects a person's "perceived age" are the same mutations that cause red hair.
MC1R, or the so-called ginger gene, primarily protects people from sun exposure and UV radiation by making melanin. But it can also gives people fiery red hair, hence the nickname the ginger gene.
As a bonus, the gene also makes people appear younger than their actual age – an average of two years younger than they really are, according to the findings which were published in the journal Current Biology.
The study also noted that those with blonde hair, blue or other light colored eyes, and generally paler pigmentation, were also perceived as younger than their true age.
Scientists determined this by showing volunteers thousands of photographs of people without makeup to change their appearance. Of the nearly three thousand photos, it was determined that 2,693 of them had one genetic marker in common: the ginger gene.
However, the researchers were unable to explain how exactly the ginger gene gives a person their very own fountain of youth – or at least perceived youth in the eyes of those who look at them. Nevertheless, the study is monumental.
"The exciting part is we actually found the gene, and that we did find the first means we will be able to find more. It is exciting because this is a well known phenomenon that so far cannot be explained – why do some people look so much younger?" said Prof Manfred Kayser, from Erasmus in an interview with BBC News.
As the first ever study on perceived age, many other scientists are weighing in on the findings.
"This is an interesting finding that shows how genetics can influence the ageing process independently of developing disease. However, whilst interesting, the authors admit that they need to find more genetic variation to have any chance of predicting someone's appearance from DNA alone," said Prof Tim Frayling from the University of Exeter.
Although much more work still needs to be conducted, the researchers are hopeful that their work will eventually lead to the development of a product that can boost the effects of MC1R to make everyone appear more youthful.
Photos: Courtney Carmody | Flickr