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Could ginger hair become extinct due to climate change?

Photo: Copyright Bartr [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redheadday4.jpg], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Copyright Bartr [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redheadday4.jpg], via Wikimedia Commons


Jen Bartram
Digital News Editor

Tuesday, July 08, 2014, 09:51 GMT -

Redheads could become extinct as the climate warms up; that’s the theory put forward by scientists in Scotland. The ginger gene is thought to be an evolutionary response to gloomy, dull weather, as it allows the body to absorb more vitamin D when sunlight is scarce.

Dr. Alastair Moffat, managing director of ScotlandsDNA, explained the hypothesis.

“I think the reason for light skin and red hair is that we do not get enough sun and we have to get all the Vitamin D we can.

“If the climate is changing and it is to become more cloudy or less cloudy then this will affect the gene.

“If it was to get less cloudy and there was more sun, then yes, there would be fewer people carrying the gene.”

Only two percent of the world’s population has ginger hair, but many more people carry one of the three ginger genes.

According to an earlier study by ScotlandsDNA, the most red-headed part of the United Kingdom is southeast Scotland, where 40% of people carry one of the three common red hair gene variants - but it’s estimated that 20.4 million people across the UK carry the ginger gene.

So should we stock up on ginger hair dye as the weather becomes warmer?

Lilian Hunt, PhD student looking at human genetic variation at the National Institute for Medical Research, says that it is unlikely that the ginger gene could be threatened by climate change.

“It would be necessary for a complete u-turn of the weather, to the point where people with pale skin, freckles and red hair can no longer survive under the sun’s harsh rays.”

This would mean that the recessive variants of the MC1R gene that causes ‘ginger’ traits could not be passed on.

She added: “In reality, the ginger trait is likely to become rarer over time, due to normal genetic drift mixed with expansion of the Scottish gene pool, as with any recessive gene mutation.”

Teaser image by Dpulitzer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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