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Genetics of blond hair in Solomon Islanders

By Dave Armstrong - 05 May 2012 11:27:18 GMT
Genetics of blond hair in Solomon Islanders

The unique recessive gene for blond hair is an example of convergent evolution (with the ubiquitous blond from Europe based cultures; Credit: © Sean Miles

The evolution of blondes has been disputed for centuries. No, not in the pub. The European style blond(e) found from Lebanon to Scandinavia and, of course in Australia and North America, now has competition. For years, jokes about sailors misleadingly explained Solomon Islanders blond locks.

Now this intriguing solution has appeared from a pretty old and worn problem. About 46% of all Solomon Islanders are blond, despite there being no explanation whatsoever for their hair colour in an equatorial archipelago, far to the north-east of Australia and east of PNG.

Sean Myles and his colleagues at Bristol, Max Planck Institute and UC San Francisco investigated the Melanesians on the Solomon Islands, publishing their research in the journal of Science. Initially sampling the saliva and hair of 1209 islanders, they were able to pinpoint a single gene type of inheritance immediately. Looking more closely at the genomes of 85 people confirmed that the blonds had a different version (allele) of the TYRP1 locus from the dark-haired individuals.

Situated east of Papua New Guinea and north of Vanuatu, The Solomons are almost central to the Melanesians colonisations

Situated east of Papua New Guinea and north of Vanuatu, The Solomons are almost central to the Melanesians colonisations - Oceania image via Shutterstock

TYRP1 is well known to create albinism in humans and lightness of colour in mice, dogs and horses. In fact we believe that blonde mice do actually have more fun. This system does not create the blond(e) pigmentation with which we are all familiar. The Melanesian brand of blond has arisen separately, indicating that such isolated communities could have many more (if less obvious) genes that could benefit us.

Medical research could be happily overtaken by currently unknown "resistances" or "immunities". Even some of the most despairing medical problems could be alleviated if we find more genomic variation. The authors point out that it is folly to know the ancestry of western people form genomics while the basic constitution of minor human groups needs to be known for their sakes and ours!

Enjoy your genetically modified tea and peruse a TV screen full of modified brunettes. while considering how often blondes might have been evolved. Maybe some prehistoric lady found it hard to find a gentleman with her early blondness convergence. This guy certainly seems to enjoy the Solomon Islands - but of course, the Solomons' gene is much more common there than blondness in any European country.

Credit: © Sean Miles

the Solomons' gene is much more common there than blondness in any European country

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