Those unhappy with their gray hair now have to turn to a bottle of dye to cover it up, but a new study raises the possibility of being able to prevent hair from going gray in the first place. London researchers have identified a gene that causes hair to lose its natural color, reports the BBC. The culprit is called IRF4, and the revelation comes from the most comprehensive study of its kind involving more than 6,000 people from five different countries and different backgrounds. "We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans," says lead author Kaustubh Adhikari of University College London. Don't look for a magic pill anytime soon, but the discovery at least points scientists in the right direction.
As CNN explains: "If more studies can confirm the role of this cellular pathway in graying, researchers could look for proteins or enzymes that might be lacking in the pathway among those salt-and-pepper cases and perhaps find a way to supplement them with a pill or cream." The study in Nature Communications also identified genes related to curly hair, beard thickness, eyebrow thickness, and, yes, the monobrow, reports Medical Daily. The findings might have more serious uses beyond cosmetics, notes Popular Science. Insights into the genes that affect appearance can improve police forensics work and thus result in better profiles of suspects, and they can give anthropologists a better understanding of ancient civilizations. (The human hair business is a dirty one, both literally and figuratively.)