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You can blame your parents for some of those gray hairs. A new study has identified the first gene known to be responsible for causing your hair to lose its color.

Surprisingly, according to the researchers, this is the first time a gene has been found to be responsible for the graying of hair. While scientists have known how hair turns gray for a while—over time, humans produce less of a pigment called melanin which provides the color—there’s been no evidence to explain why it happens.


Now, a study carried out by a team from University College London has analyzed the genomes of more than 6,000 people from an extremely mixed population—including African, European, and Native American participants.

In turn, they’ve identified 18 different genes that seem to influence hair traits. It’s not just graying: The team has identified genes that influence features such as color and shape, as well as the propensity for beardedness, balding and mono-brows. The research is published in Nature Communications.

Gene associations with hair traits from the new study (Image by K. Adhikari et al)

But the graying gene—known as IRF4—is certainly the most interesting because it’s the first known link.


Sadly, the identification of the gene won’t mean that we can eradicate gray hair for good, though. The team notes that there are likely yet-to-be-discovered genetic contributions to graying, as well as environmental factors. But you can at least blame your parents for a few of them,

[Nature Communications via BBC and UCL]