Scientists Identify Genetic Causes of Gray Hair

For the first time, scientists have identified a gene responsible for gray hair in humans.

The IRF4 gene, which sits on chromosome 6, had already been known for regulating melanin, which determines the natural color of one’s hair, skin and eyes.  Researchers have now determined that this gene is also one of the factors that causes hair to turn gray.

The scientists also identified genes that cause hair curliness (PRSS53), beard thickness (EDAR), eyebrow thickness (FOXL2) and even unibrows (PAX3).

This discovery opens up two amazing possibilities for the future.  First, scientists believe that these genes could be switched on and off.  People could someday use drugs or cosmetics to change the color and appearance of their hair, as well as prevent it from turning gray, without resorting to dyes.

Second, forensic scientists could use genetics to construct visual profiles.  For instance, they could analyze DNA evidence to determine that the person in question was a blue-eyed female with brown, curly hair that was beginning to turn gray.

The new study stresses that the IRF4 gene is just one of many factors responsible for gray hair.  In earlier research, a different team of scientists found that the BACE2 gene also plays a role.  When BACE2 was inhibited, it caused a reduction in melanin production in mice, leading to depigmentation and gray hair. The researchers used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system to control RNA sample integrity.

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