4 January 2011

Hair color revealed in DNA

by Kate Melville

The same European researchers who devised a forensic test to tell a person's age from a sample of their blood have now created a test to reveal a person's hair color from their blood or saliva. The findings appear in the journal Human Genetics.

The researchers, from Erasmus MC University, say that on the basis of DNA information it is possible to determine with an accuracy of more than 90 percent whether a person has red hair, with a similarly high accuracy whether a person has black hair, and with an accuracy of more than 80 percent whether a person's hair color is blond or brown.

Impressively, the new test even allows differentiating hair colors that are similar, for example, between red and reddish blond, or between blond and dark blond hair. The necessary DNA can be taken from blood, sperm, saliva or other biological materials that might be available in forensic case work.

"That we are now making it possible to predict different hair colors from DNA represents a major breakthrough because, so far, only red hair color, which is rare, could be estimated from DNA. For our research we made use of the DNA and hair color information of hundreds of Europeans and investigated genes previously known to influence the differences in hair color. We identified 13 'DNA markers' from 11 genes that are informative to predict a person's hair color," explained study leader Professor Manfred Kayser.

Interestingly, the current study only addresses the predictability of the color of the hair on the head. The researchers say that further research would be necessary to predict the color of body hair.

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Source: Human Genetics