scientists discover grey geneAlthough a man going grey is heralded as a silver fox, women spend many thousands of pounds a year covering up those rogue grey strands – the British spend over £3million a year on shop-bought hair dyes. Now, recent research has pinpointed the gene that is responsible for hair changing colour and in the future it could mean a way to stop this sign of ageing in its tracks.

In a study published in Nature Communications, an international team of scientists explained how they’d collected DNA samples from more than 6,000 volunteers, from as wide a range of genetic make-up as possible. The scale of the study allowed the scientists to identify the gene IRF4 that regulates the pigment melanin that determines the colour of hair, skin and eyes.

The gene sits on chromosome six and although it might not be the only gene that shapes the hair colour it is the first positive discovery by a worldwide team led by British researchers at the University College London.

Why do we go grey?

The colour of our hair – like the colour of our eyes or skin – is determined by a pigment produced by cells present in our hair follicles called melanocytes. As we get older, the melanocyte production is slowed down and then eventually stops meaning your natural colour disappears and greys grow through.

Lead author Dr Kaustubh Adhikari explains that in the future “preventing grey hair is a possibility and even reversing grey hair might not be impossible. Once we know more about the pigmentation process, and all the genes involved it should be easy to find a protein or enzyme to up-regulate or down-regulate the activity.”

What other hair-raising discoveries did the scientists make?

As well as the greying gene, the researchers also discovered the gene that determines the thickness of beards and eyebrows and even the one behind the dreaded mono brow.

Now, scientists just have to find the genetic troublemaker behind hair loss.

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By Ian Watson

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