Is hair in the genome
Gene switch discovered for blonde hair
"We looked for general mechanisms by which external features such as the color of skin and hair develop in the course of evolution," says David Kingsley of Stanford University. His working group first researched how sticklebacks adapt their skin color to a changed environment. In doing so, they identified a DNA region in the genome of the fish that does not itself code a protein, but rather regulates the activity of protein-coding genes. One of them controlled the skin color of the sticklebacks. The researchers also found a very similar section of DNA in the genes of mice and humans. It controls the activity of the KITLG gene, which is required for the development of various cell types - including pigment-forming skin cells. DNA analyzes had shown that this region of the genome differs very slightly in blond and dark-haired people: in blondes, the DNA building block A is exchanged for another (G) at one point.
Experiments with cultures of human skin cells showed that this exchange reduced the activity of the KITLG gene by 20 percent. Mice, to which the “blonde version” of the DNA segment had been transferred into the genome, developed a lighter coat than the normal, dark-haired animals. The genetic change apparently only affected the hair color and did not at the same time affect the color of the eyes. There is also no evidence, according to the researchers, that blonde hair color in people could be linked to special personality traits.
This result is a good example of how a conspicuous physical trait can change very easily by only slightly reducing the activity of a gene, says Kingsley. There would probably be numerous as yet unknown DNA segments distributed throughout the genome that function in a similar way as gene switches for various genes. These genetic control elements could be responsible not only for the variation in external traits, but also for different susceptibility to disease and other properties.
The hair color is determined by the type and amount of melanin pigments deposited in the hair. If the black-brown eumelanin is mainly produced, the result is a dark hair color. If, on the other hand, the red-yellow pheomelanin predominates, the result is reddish hues. A low production of both pigment types leads to blonde hair. The respective underlying genetic characteristics are not yet fully known. In people with albinism, a genetic defect disrupts the formation of melanin, which results in the lack of color in the skin, hair and eyes.
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