Scientists have discovered more than 100 new genes that determine the color of a person's hair. Previously, scientists knew about only 13 genes that influenced hair color.
This finding could help forensic scientists determine the color of strands of hair left behind in crime scenes.
Hundreds Of Genes
Researchers from King's College London and Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam were able to uncover hundreds of new genes that play a role in people's hair color. The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics. It could help scientists understand other areas of the body, not just hair color.
Scientists examined the DNA of almost 300,000 people of European descent. The people involved in the study self-reported information about their hair color. Researchers used data from UK Biobank, 23andMe, and the International Visible Trait Genetics Consortium.
Participants had their hair color compared to their genetic information. This information is stored in millions of locations in the human genome. They were able to discover hundreds of genes that controlled pigmentation.
Unlike the 13 genes that were discovered to play a role in hair color, these hundreds of new genes are more accurate at detecting hair color than the previously discovered genes.
Researchers found that the new genes explain 35 percent of red hair, 25 percent of blond hair, and 26 percent of black hair. It could also mean that there are more than just the genes discovered that influence hair color.
One of the factors that complicate the findings is that there are children who are born blond, but their hair turns a different color after some years. Scientists still don't know why this happens or if it related to any of the genes discovered in the study.
Benefits Of The New Genes
Lead author on the study Tim Spector says that this study is the biggest genetic study on pigmentation. This could help scientists understand the aggressive skin cancer melanoma. It could also affect other types of cancer. Pigment genes could affect the chances of having Crohn's or other bowel diseases.
Other conditions that are linked to pigmentation include skin, testicular, prostate, and ovarian cancers. This work could shed light on how pigmentation genes have adapted to external environments.
These findings could also help forensic scientists determine the hair color of a suspect. If forensic scientists manage to find DNA at the crime scene, there is an about 90 percent certainty that they could tell what their hair color will be.