Blonde babes are guided by different genes

genetic blondesIt is common knowledge – blondes may not always be the brightest cookies in the box, but they definitely have tons of fun.

The recipe to be a blonde bombshell has always been simple……….

  • Express your personal copy of “the blonde” gene or
  • Use a bottle

But, researchers from Stanford have just added a special Island technique to “Being Blonde”.

Real blondes are special

The real phenomenon is pretty rare.

True blondes are found in only two population groups – northern Europeans and the people of the Solomon Islands, a small nation living in the South Pacific.

For decades, the chocolate skinned blondies of the Solomon Islands, have been seen as products of European explorers and traders. It was assumed that these Europeans introduced the blonde gene into the population, when they “sowed” their oats, during visits to the islands.

But thanks to a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the genetic secrets of blonde hair of the Solomon Island residents has been unbottled.

Gene hunting on the islands

The research team visited many of the remote villages in their quest to uncover the genetic heritage of the island. If the local chief gave them an OK to collect samples, the team set about gathering DNA from several of the village residents.

Each participants hair and skin colour was carefully documented using a light reflectance meter. Once the body info had been documented, the DNA was obtained by having the person spit into a tube.

The team trekked up and down the island for a month, during which time they collected a 1000 samples.

Blonde Island style

Back in the lab, the serious business of gene hunting began.

To kick things off, they selected samples from the islanders that had been very blonde (43 in total) and then compared the genetic data from this group, with a selection of islanders with very dark hair (42 in total).

Using a genome-wide association study (GWAS), which is able to pick up differences in how frequently a particular version of a gene appears – the team quickly struck gold.

TYRP1 is the gene

Hair colour is typically the sum of several genes and a little bit of environment too – so the team thought they would be looking for a needle in a hay stack.

GWAS studies usually need data from lots and lots of people, to uncover genetic secrets. But it only took 85 islanders DNA to unbottle the blonde gene.

The secret to being an Island blonde, lies on chromosome 9, on the gene known as TYRP1.

TYRP1 is responsible for producing tyrosinase-related protein 1, this protein is known to play a role in the pigmentation of both mice and humans.

Not a European gene

In Islanders with blonde hair, there has been a tiny shift in the arrangement of the nucleotide letters.

The shift leaves the enzyme unable to create pigment – turning the person with this version of the gene into a fair haired wonder. The “defect” in the pigment enzyme is not found in blonde haired Europeans , so European visitors had nothing to do with creating the blonde clans of the Solomon Islands.

It seems, Mother Nature chose to do a little bleaching on two separate occasions.

What did she say….

“If you can’t change your surroundings, change your hair colour”bottle blonde

Melanesian Blond Hair Is Caused by an Amino Acid Change in TYRP1. Science, 2012; 336 (6081): 554. E. E. Kenny, N. J. Timpson, M. Sikora, M.-C. Yee, A. Moreno-Estrada, C. Eng, S. Huntsman, E. G. Burchard, M. Stoneking, C. D. Bustamante, S. Myles
 

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Further reading

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