Scientists have discovered the grey-hair gene

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It’s no secret that grey hair is associated with ageing – at least where humans are concerned. Nature’s way of saying ‘you’re getting on in years’ has recently been put under the microscope, and scientists now believe they’ve discovered the gene responsible for causing those silver streaks in your tresses.

An international team of researchers has collected DNA from a diverse group of over 6000 people, including Anglo Americans, Europeans, Native Americans and those with African ancestry.

After exhaustive study they have pinpointed a gene now known as IRF4 that regulates melanin, which, in turn, controls the pigments in your hair, skin and eyes. It is believed that hair gets its colouring specifically from something called melanocytes, which are cells that sit at the root, or follicle, of your hair. As we age, these melanocytes cease producing pigments and our hair loses its natural colour, turning grey.

Until now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, grey hair has been covered or dyed with hair colour. But the discovery of IRF4 could lead to gene manipulation that controls the hair’s ageing process or potentially banishes greying altogether.

And although the IRF4 gene was responsible for around 30 per cent of the instances of greying hair, it is believed that factors such as age, stress and environment still account for 70 per cent of greying.

“We already know several genes involved in balding and hair colour but this is the first time a gene for greying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density,” said the study’s lead author Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London.

Australians forked out around $6.2 million last year to cut and colour their hair, and this industry is predicted to be worth around $279 million by 2020.

Professor Brian Morris, a molecular biologist at University of Sydney’s School of Medical Sciences, says science could help reverse hair greying in the not-too-distant future.

“That’s where the genetic and biochemical and pharmaceutical work is headed,” he said. “Based on these fundamental findings at a basic science level we are going to see major prospects to things like hair greying.

“So what that means dollar-wise, I’m not sure, but it also said that 4.1 million bought DIY hair colour in an average of six months,” he added. “So that’s a lot of people colouring their hair.”


Are you proud of your silver locks? Or do you try to conceal your grey hair? Does a little bit of ‘salt and pepper’ make a man look distinguished or just plain old? What are your thoughts?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 16
  1. 0

    So, we’re going to see thousands of 90 year old brunettes, male and female in future? I work in an Aged Care Hostel, and believe me, that won’t be a pretty sight. Seems like a waste of good research money to me.

  2. 0

    I guess we are ageing from the day we are born. However my white hairs started showing up a year after I was married (age 24). I have very good skin and hardly any wrinkles on my face and I haven’t used any skin conditioning treatments, and so far in the past five years or so I have used a moisturizer as I spend quite a bit of time outdoors walking and gardening. I have Aloa Vera in the garden and I pull off a leaf when I am outside gardening and walking the dog and smother my face, neck and arms with it.
    As far as men with white/grey/pepper hair is concerned a lot depends on their facial features and state of their skin. George Clooney and Richard Gere look great as two examples, but recent photos of Robert Redford look like he’s been on the beer and spirits every day of his life! There are a lot of women in prominence that look very attractive and healthy with white/grey hair.
    However, I guess a lot of people will be jumping over the moon with the prospect of turning the grey/white/silver/salt and pepper locks back to their original colour, but then as we all know, lots are not happy with their original colour and would still colour it.
    Whatever it takes to be happy with our hair is up to ourselves.

  3. 0

    Who pays for this research what A WASTE of money.

  4. 0

    In the 2 comments so far, nothing was said about the fact that, unless you genetically or through artificial means, don’t LOOK ‘old’ or older – grey hair gives the impression to the onlooker that you are old. Now this can have no particular meaning to that person at all, but it can also have a rather negative impression, if they buy into the stereotypes. Old may = inability, stodgy, fuddy-duddy, incapable of learning new things, not attractive on a personal level, etc. C’mon, we’ve all heard, or heard about age discrimination for job hunting, as well as in other areas of life. And of course there is the misguided, but still around impression that (generally speaking) when men age, they become ‘distinguished’ but when women age they just get old! I thought when I was younger, that I would never colour my hair for vanity reasons and that still holds true, but I am also over 65 and have been looking for work for the past two or three years, as well as being open to a new relationship and have coloured my hair to mitigate any such conceptions on other people’s parts. Would it be easier to just let it go? Of course (although I’d probably put some colourful streaks in mine anyway…) Ah, well…..

  5. 0

    Society should get over the obsession with looks. The treatments for colouring hair are mostly quite harmful and detrimental to many people. The skin absorbs far too much when in excess and can act out in your overall health and well being. Look after yourself and be happy with greying tresses or baldness. Age gracefully.

  6. 0

    I use a hair colour restoration product called Grayban that works great. I have used it for four years. I get mine from ebay.

  7. 0

    I tried dying my hair as it started to go grey, used Just For Men colouring.Noticed it getting a bit thin after a while. Decided I would rather be grey than bald and stopped. My hair thickened up again.

  8. 0

    How will the young ones know who their elders are if there’s no more grey hair? I often see couples where the man looks his age with his grey hair (nothing wrong with that!) and the woman has obviously dyed hair, making her age indeterminate.
    What an indictment of our society that so many, mostly women, feel they must spend money to cover the grey. There’s a book called “Going Grey, Looking Great”: most inspiring.

    • 0

      Alula: Again, yes, so long as society continues to judge both men’s’ and women’s’ ‘value’ for whatever purpose they are ‘evaluating’ them for, having your age be indeterminate may give you the little edge you need to at least be considered based on yourself & your own merits; not a presumptive ‘worth’. If the world eventually contained no ‘isms’; that is prejudice/discrimination on the basis of race, religion, country of origin, age, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, weight/ looks, marital status, pregnancy status, ability/disability etc, there would be no desire or need to either attempt to fit a certain mould nor any laws against evaluating, let alone discriminating against anyone. Wouldn’t THAT be nice.

  9. 0

    Why do some men perm their hair? Those tight little curls ……

    • 0

      Do they perm it?
      I know quite a guys who have natural tight curls and hate it as it is hard to get a comb through it sometimes. Some also let it grow longer so the curls aren’t so tight. Some of these I have known since they were small

  10. 0

    When hair turns grey, the skin also gets lighter, and the grey suits the lighter skin. So some people do look passing strange if they die their hair (present company excepted, I’m sure).



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