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Researchers Discover 'Blonde Gene'

Update Date: Jun 04, 2014 09:55 AM EDT

Researchers have identified a genetic mutation that codes for blond hair of Northern Europeans. 

Researchers found the single mutations in a long gene sequence called KIT ligand (KITLG) which is  present in about one-third of Northern Europeans. People carrying these genes could have variety of hair color including platinum blond, dirty blond or even dark brown hair. 

"There's a half dozen different chromosome regions that influence hair color," said study co-author David Kingsley, an evolutionary biologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University in California in the press release. "This is one, but not the only one. The combination of variants that you have at all those different genes - that sets your final hair color."

The team encountered the gene about seven years ago when they noticed that stickleback fish color ranged from dark to light depending on the type of water they inhabited. They discovered that it was a change in one base pair in the KITLG gene that made that possible.

Researchers also noted that a broken KITLG gene would be disastrous for an individual.

"You'd have white hair and be sterile, because your gonads hadn't developed properly - and actually, you'd be dead, because blood cells didn't do what they're supposed to do in the bone marrow," said Kingsley, according to Live Science. 

The study convincingly ties the gene to hair color, Hopi Hoekstra, a geneticist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study, told Live Science in an email.

"The study is rigorous, elegant and airtight," she said.

The study has been detailed in the journal Nature Genetics.

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