Science and Health

Are Ginger Genes Going Away?

Researchers suggest the gene that causes red hair may be on its way out as a result of climate change.

Are Ginger Genes Going Away?
Flickr / Kate Geraets

Say what you will about those with red, or "ginger," hair. But the gene that causes the unique hair color may be on its way out. 

The UK's Daily Record reports researchers in Scotland have claimed, due to more sunny days in the notoriously cloudy country, the recessive gene that causes red hair may be carried in fewer people.

Dr. Alistair Moffat, the managing director of Scotlands DNA, explained to The Independent he believes red hair is a genetic adaptation to the cloudy weather in Scotland. 

Moffat said, in part: "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..." (Via The Independent)

Another scientist involved in the research, but refused to be named due to the "theoretical nature" of the work, told Scotland Now“I think the [regressive gene] is slowly dying out. Climate change could see a decline in the number of people with red hair in Scotland." 

The same scientist, though, also notes it would take "many hundreds of years" for any kind of change like the one he described and also pointed out the research is still a theory. (Via Scotland Now)

While a previous study by ScotlandsDNA notes 40 percent of people in southeast Scotland carry three of the common gene variants that cause red hair...

Ph.D student Lilian Hunt, who studies gene variants at the National Institute of Medical Research, told The Weather Network“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.” 

The Washington Post is also skeptical about the researchers' claims, noting only two of them are speaking to the press, and listing four flaws in their argument about the gene, namely the idea people need light skin to soak up more Vitamin D, which has been challenged by researchers at the University of California. 

The Post also notes Moffat, the lead researcher speaking to the press, claimed in 2012 to have found the "grandson" of Eve...from Adam and Eve. He also says he located direct descendants from the Queen of Sheba. Other geneticists were, naturally, skeptical. (Via The Washington Post / BBC)