At California’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University, evolutionary biologist and study co-author David Kingsley has reported on his research team having discovered and identified the genetic mutation that codes for the blond hair of Northern Europeans.
He remarked that there were in fact several chromosome regions which in some way influence hair colour, and it it appears to be the combination of variants each person has of those different genes which determines their final hair colour. The single gene mutation that the team identified came from a long gene sequence called KIT ligand – KITLG.
KITLG, it seems, is present in the genetic make-up of around 30% of Northern Europeans, those having them likely to have hair ranging in colour from dark brown to platinum blonde,. The study group originally came across this gene sequence some seven years ago, having become aware that stickleback fish colour was dependent on the water type in which they lived, and further research showed that that a change in the KITLG gene was responsible for these colour variations.
It seems that the gene involved is the one responsible for coding for the KIT ligand protein, which affects pigmentation, blood, gut nerve and sex cells and is find in all body cells. It is of vital importance, as anyone lacking it would have white hair and be sadly sexually sterile, or more likely dead, due to the blood cells not functioning as they should within the bone marrow.
All the same, the team discovered that, in fact, the gene mutation in question also appears to have links to what are generally regarded as normal variations in hair colour, and in fact, in the course of population studies, Icelandic blonds were much more likely to have the genetic variant than brunettes.
The study team were curious to know in what ways a mutation in an essential protein could alter hair colour without causing other harmful effects, and in order to find out, they experimented on mice. Firstly, the researchers identified the human DNA gene regions associated with blond hair. These they then isolated, tagging those code segments with a gene coding for a fluorescent-blue colour.
Upon inserting these tagged genes into laboratory mice, they found that the blue glow only showed up within the hair follicles, indicating that the gene mutation was activated only in hair, giving the test subject rodents lighter coloured coats..
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