This research into graying hair proves why diversity is important in scientific research

Blame your genes.
Blame your genes.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
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Researchers have for the first time identified the gene linked to graying hair after analyzing more 6,000 people’s genotypes. The study, published in Nature Communications, provided other insights to the genetic roots of human hair.

Moreover, the research also showed the benefits of having a diverse pool of people to study.

Past studies have been somewhat flawed as scientists had focused on Europeans. In this study, researchers from University College London were able to recruit participants from Latin America with diverse backgrounds, which included African (6%), European (48%), and Native American (46%) ancestry.

The gene—IRF4—was already known to play a role in the production of melanin, the pigment that plays an important role in determining eye, hair and skin color, but has now revealed to go much further. ”It was only possible because we analysed a diverse melting pot of people, which hasn’t been done before on this scale,” lead researcher Kaustubh Adhikari, from UCL’s Cell and Developmental Biology department, said in a statement.

While researchers know it’s the absence of melanin that leads to graying hair; they want to investigate what role IRF4 plays in the graying process. The findings not only have potential forensic and cosmetic applications—such as delaying the appearance of gray hair—IRF4 could prove to be an important model to better understand the aging process. Researchers found 17 other genes that influence hair types, beard thickness, and even unibrows.

“The genes we have identified are unlikely to work in isolation to cause greying or straight hair, or thick eyebrows, but have a role to play along with many other factors yet to be identified,” Adhikari said.