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'Blond Genes' May Vary Around the World
Date:5/3/2012

ipants' blood pressure, measured their heights and weights, and collected 1,000 saliva samples from the villagers to examine their DNA.

To look for the genes associated with blond hair, the researchers then selected 43 of the most blond and 42 of the darkest-haired Islanders from the samples collected, and looked for differences in the frequency of genetic variants between the two groups.

The researchers immediately identified a single signal on chromosome 9, which accounted for 50 percent of the variance in the participants' blond hair. They later identified the gene responsible, called TYRP1. The authors noted that the genetic variant that leads to blond hair among people in the Solomon Islands is not found in the genomes of Europeans.

"Within a week we had our initial result," the study's co-first author, Eimear Kenny, said in the news release. "It was such a striking signal pointing to a single gene -- a result you could hang your hat on. That rarely happens in science. It was one of the best experiences of my career."

"The human characteristic of blond hair arose independently in equatorial Oceania," she said. "That's quite unexpected and fascinating."

"This is one of the most beautiful examples to date of the mapping of a simple genetic trait in humans," David Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard University who was not involved in the study, said in the news release.

The study authors said the finding underscores the need for genetic studies on isolated populations.

"If we're going to be designing the next generation of medical treatments using genetic information and we don't have a really broad spectrum of populations included, you could disproportionately benefit some populations and harm others," Bustamante said.

More information

The U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute has more about genetic mapping.

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