- Title: UK: Genetic surprise could end UK's redhead prejudice
- Date: 17th April 2013
- Summary: LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS STILLS OF PAINTINGS OF HENRY VIII, FORMER BRITISH MONARCH AND A REDHEAD, IN GALLERY STILL OF PAINTING OF ELIZABETH I, FORMER BRITISH MONARCH AND A REDHEAD KINGSTON, JAMAICA (FILE) (REUTERS) PRINCE HARRY, ANOTHER ROYAL REDHEAD, INSPECTING TROOPS FROM JAMAICA DEFENCE FORCE HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RUPERT GRINT, REDHEADED HARRY POTTER STAR, TALKING TO REPORTERS
- Embargoed: 2nd May 2013 13:00
- Location: United Kingdom
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Quirky,Science,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVA2B0Y6FJD4G6C8MB6QDW2RX23W
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- Story Text: A team of Scottish genetic researchers say they have developed a powerful tool to combat the bullying of some redheads in Britain. It comes as the result of research showing that one in three Britons are red-headed gene carriers - they may not be redheads themselves but their future children or grandchildren could be.
Genetic researchers in Scotland believe their study of gene variations overturns established thinking on what causes such a high proportion of redheadness among Scots.
Between one and two percent of the world's population has red hair, but in England the figure is six percent and in neighbouring Scotland it's even higher at around 13 percent.
Traditional thinking has suggested that red hair was inherited from the Neanderthals, who were displaced by homosapiens more than 20,000 years ago. But 'Scotland's DNA', led by managing director Alastair Moffat, argues that the red-headed variant of Neanderthals and homosapiens are different. The group believes the answer for the prevalence of redheadedness in the UK lies in the British climate - specifically the heavy cloud cover experienced throughout the year.
"It's not to do with northern latitudes. If that was true red hair would be very prevalent in Scandinavia and it's not nearly as prevalent there as it is here and it's because Ireland, Scotland, and England live in an Atlantic climate which is cloudy, and so to get enough Vitamin D absorbed through our system it's good to be red hair, we've evolved well to be redheaded," explained Moffat.
All physical colouring is a mixture of two pigments; black melanin and red/yellow melanin, but in red-heads a particular receptor in the pathway for pigmentation, MC1R, is disrupted and black melanin is suppressed while red/yellow melanin is produced uninhibited. The result is red hair, light skin colour, often freckles and a greater sensitivity to sunlight.
Red hair appears in people with two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a mutation in the MC1R protein and can often skip generations. A person who doesn't have red hair can still produce red haired children if both they and their partner carry the gene.
Moffat says the inspiration for the project came when his two children, now grown-up, were born redheaded, despite no-one in recent generations of either parent's clan having red hair.
"We've got two redheaded kids and they'd come out of nowhere. So (wife) Lindsay and I turned out to be carriers and I thought 'how many more people don't know this, how many more people don't know they're carriers?', so we began this project, we've tested more than 4,000 people and we worked out that Britain is the world's redheaded nation. There are more, proportionately more redheads here than anywhere else in the world," he said.
The Scotland's DNA project is launching a new test which costs 25 (38 USD) and will tell participants whether or not they're a carrier of a red haired gene. It will also inform them which of three types of the gene they have - Cysteine-red (R151C), Tryptophan-red (R160W), or Histidine-red (D294H).
"We've been able to show that there are three kinds of red-haired variants, which is interesting. There's tryptophan-red, histidine-red, and cysteine-red and two of them are very old, they're 70,000 years old and everybody with cysteine-red or tryptophan-red is descended from a single individual, from the first person to ever have it, probably in west Asia, probably about 70,000 years ago," said Moffat.
Scotland's DNA customer results executive Sarah Williams explained how the test worked.
"They spit and send it to the lab. This is then analysed by our geneticist and they receive their results for their ancient ancestry, which they can have tested for, they can test their mother line and their father line. An additional test that we now offer is the redhead test, and when this is returned to us I can tell them if they are a carrier, a non-carrier, or if they are a redhead, which they probably already know by looking in the mirror," she said.
The information will be used to make a 'ginger' map of the British Isles. Moffat says the primary aim is to end the prejudice in Britain that blights the lives of many red-headed people, derided by some as "gingers" and "carrot tops". Attacks on schoolchildren by classmates for having red hair have been reported recently in the British press.
Despite the prevalence of red-headed celebrities such as Damian Lewis, Rupert Grint, and Christina Hendricks, the abuse handed out by a minority of Britons shows no signs of abating. A recent article in political heavyweight magazine New Statesman asked the question 'Should ginger-bashing be a ginger crime?'
Scotland's DNA believe that by pointing out that around 33 percent of British people are red-hair carriers who could potentially have future children or grandchildren with red hair,
bullying could be reduced.
Moffat says the possibility of a red-haired Royal baby being born to Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, could also help. Moffat says that William is definitely a carrier, due to the fact that his brother Harry has red hair. With his wife, like most of the population, having a six percent likelihood of containing the gene, he estimates that there is also a six percent chance of the third in line to the the throne being a redhead.
On the streets of Edinburgh there was no sign of prejudice among non-redheads.
"My mother always said it was a blessing to have a redheaded child," said Isla Beattie.
Dark-haired John MacDonald admitted that he has received ribbing from his father-in-law on the subject. "My father-in-law has got ginger hair, although he's Australian, and he winds me up regularly that my wife has the ginger gene and we'll have a ginger child. Not that it bothers me in any way. I suppose we'll just have to use more sunscreen," he said.
Half-Scottish, half Dutch American national, Jessica Ten Doesschate (PRON: Doosh-Carter), said she was surprised to hear the results from Scotland's DNA's preliminary research. "It does surprise me a little bit, because I haven't seen as many gingers in Scotland as I thought I would, but at the same time my mother has Scottish ancestry and she's a redhead," said Doesschate.
The company, which says it can trace individual's ancestry back thousands of years, wants to increase the size of its database and is seeking more volunteers to send in saliva tests.
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