Black and Blonde: Scientists Uncover Blonde Gene in Solomon Islands

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Scientists have finally figured out how some of the dark-skinned inhabitants of the Solomon Islands have naturally blonde hair.  Researchers used to believe the blonde hair came from interaction with European people, however, a group from Stanford has detected a genetic difference in the blondes.  They swabbed the cheeks of 85 people, 43 with blonde hair, to compare their DNA to that of people with darker hair and found a chromosomal difference caused the blonde hair. The researcher identified a change in the gene TYRP1, which affects pigment in humans and mice, as the cause.

The scientists consider the effect to be very unique. “The mutation is at a frequency of 26 percent in the Solomon Islands, is absent outside of Oceania, represents a strong common genetic effect on a complex human phenotype, and highlights the importance of examining genetic associations worldwide,” said the abstract of the report.

The team was stunned by their findings. “They have this very dark skin and bright blond hair. It was mind-blowing,” Sean Myles, one of the researchers, told the Daily Mail. “As a geneticist on the beach watching the kids playing, you count up the frequency of kids with blond hair, and say, ‘Wow, it’s 5 to 10 percent’.”

Eimear Kenny, co-author of the study, has similar feelings. “‘Within a week we had our initial result. It was such a striking signal pointing to a single gene — a result you could hang your hat on,” he said. “That rarely happens in science.”

 

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