Do you have the grey hair gene?

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?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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