Scientists Find The Specific Gene That Leads To Gray Hair

Photographed by Sam Nodelman.
Genetics have always been to blame for gray hair (thanks mom and/or dad!), but scientists have now found the specific gene that leaves many looking more salt than pepper as they get older. According to CBS News, a study released earlier this month by Nature Communications found that the IRF4 gene, which was previously known to be responsible for light hair in people of European origin, is also linked to gray hair. Researchers analyzed the DNA of 6,000 individuals from Latin America, including those from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, to locate the genes that determine hair color, density, and texture. The diverse gene pool helped them find the IRF4 gene, the annoying culprit behind gray hair. "We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color, but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density," study author Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London, said. This gene helps regulate and produce melanin, which gives hair its color, as well as determines the color of eyes and skin. When less melanin is produced, gray hair occurs; how much melanin the body produces is determined by genetics. “As hair grays, something happens that causes this gene to produce even lower levels of melanin,” Adhikari said. “Now we can ask more specific functional questions.” Scientists hope this new study will help in finding ways to delay the graying process and help us to better understand aging. They also hope the discovery of this specific gene will help in the fields of forensic science and anthropology.

More from Hair

R29 Original Series