Researchers discover genetic link to red hair

According to the largest ever study on hair genetics, at least 8 genes are involved in determining whether or not someone has red hair.

Woman taking a selfie in the park

It was originally thought that red hair was caused by a single gene, called MC1R, often referred to as the 'ginger gene.' Almost everyone with red hair has two specific versions of the MC1R gene for ginger hair. However, not everyone carrying both of these versions end up having red hair. This means that other genes must be involved.

Scientists have now discovered that red hair is caused by at least 8 different genes. The team, led by Profs Albert Tenesa and Ian Jackson, looked at DNA from almost 350,000 UK Biobank volunteers. They found that some of the 8 genes identified as having a role in red hair work by controlling when the MC1R genes is turned on or off.

The research also found differences in almost 200 genes associated with blonds and brunettes. These differences were previously known to be related to whether hair grows curly or straight but not colour.

We are very pleased that this work has unravelled most of the genetic variation contributing to differences in hair colour among people

Prof Albert TenesaRoslin Institute, Unievrsity of Edinburgh

Once again, collaborative research is helping to provide answers to some of life's important questions. BBSRC is pleased to have helped uspport the largest genetic study of human hair colour. It has prvided fascinating insights into what makes us such distinct individuals

Melanie WelhamExecutive Chair, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

If you're interested in finding out more about the study, you can read the published paper in 'Nature Communications' below:

Genome-wide study of hair colour in UK Biobank explains most of the SNP heritability