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Gene That Turns Hair Gray Discovered

Researchers say they have discovered the first gene responsible for graying hair, confirming graying has a genetic component and is not just environmental.

Findings of the study, led by the University College London (UCL), is considered a breakthrough that could lead to new treatments to delay or block the process.

Published in Nature Communications, the study analysed a population of over 6,000 people with varied ancestry across Latin America to identify new genes associated with hair colour, greying, density and shape, i.e. straight or curly.

"We already know several genes involved in balding and hair colour but this is the first time a gene for greying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density," said lead author, Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, UCL Cell & Developmental Biology.

The findings could help develop forensic DNA technologies that build visual profiles based on an individual's genetic makeup.

The gene identified for grey hair - IRF4 - is known to play a role in hair colour but this is the first time it has been associated with the greying of hair. This gene is involved in regulating production and storage of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye colour.

Hair greying is caused by an absence of melanin in hair so the scientists want to find out IRF4's role in this process. Understanding how IRF4 influences hair greying could help the development of new cosmetic applications that change the appearance of hair as it grows in the follicle by slowing or blocking the greying of hair.

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