Red hair a legacy of
(The Sunday Mail - p.22. 22/04/2001)
Red hair may be the legacy of Neanderthal man. Oxford University scientists think the
ginger gene, which is responsible for red hair, fair skin and freckles, could be up to
100,000 years old. They say their discovery points to the gene having originated in
Neanderthal man, who lived in Europe for 260,000 years before the ancestors of modern man
arrived from Africa about 40,000 years ago.
Research leader Dr. Rosalind Harding said: "It is certainly possible that red hair
comes from the Neanderthals." The Neanderthals are generally thought to have been a
less intelligent species than modern man, Homo sapiens. They were taller and stockier, but
with shorter limbs, bigger faces and noses, receding chins and low foreheads. They had a
basic, guttural vocabulary of about 70 words, probably at the level of today's
two-year-old, and they never developed a full language, art or culture.
They settled in Europe about 300,000 years ago, but 40,000 years ago, a wave of immigrants
- our forefathers, Cro-Magnon Man - emerged from Africa and the two species co-existed for
10,000 years. Dr Harding's research - presented at a London conference of the Human Genome
Organization during the week - suggests the two species interbred for the ginger gene to
survive. Dr Harding said redheads should not be offended by being to the primitive
Neanderthals. "If it's possible that we had ancestry from Neanderthals, then it says
that Neanderthals were more similar to us than we previously thought," she said.
Scientists at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, at Oxford University,
compared the human ginger gene with the equivalent in chimpanzees. They found 16
differences, or mutations, between the two genes. Since an early version of the gene
developed in chimps roughly 10 million years ago, the scientists estimated there has been
one mutation every 625,000 years. They used a computer to calculate how long it must have
taken for the mutation responsible for the ginger hair to have passed down through the
generations and become so common among Western people.
They concluded the mutation was older than 50,000 years and could be as old as 100,000
years. Some scientists believe Neanderthals were ultra-humans - able to adapt to extremes
of climate and surviving for 272,000 years. But they became extinct about 28,000 years
ago, outwitted for territory and food by the more socially advanced Cro-Magnons.
END OF REPORT
After receiving numerous abusive emails (obviously from red haired people) I would
ask that you "don't shoot the messenger" This site is designed to
promote discussion, and if you don't agree with what is presented, send your vitriole to
the original researchers. Complain to the scientists at Oxford University.......
Neanderthals may have been redheads
By Michael Kahn in London
October 26, 2007 04:00am
SOME Neanderthals may have had fair skin and red hair, giving them an appearance
resembling modern Europeans, an international team of researchers said yesterday.
The researchers homed in on the MC1R gene linked to hair and skin colour and used DNA
analysis to find a variation that produced the same kind of pigmentation changes as in
humans with red hair and pale skin.
The study, published in the journal Science, comes a week after another set of researchers
looking at a different gene said Neanderthals may have been capable of sophisticated
The papers make Neanderthals more like modern Europeans, with light skin and hair
colour and language abilities, and yet there are no signs of interbreeding with modern
humans, Carles Lalueza-Fox, a molecular biologist at the University of Barcelona,
said in a commentary in Science.
Taken together, the two studies are the first to extract nuclear DNA from Neanderthal
remains and represent a new way to learn more about the extinct early humans, the
Nuclear DNA is the DNA in the nucleus of the cell that makes up nearly all the genetic
information people carry.
Neanderthals were a dead-end offshoot of the human line who inhabited Europe and parts of
west and central Asia.
Research indicates they were expert tool-makers, used animal skins to keep warm and cared
for each other.
Most researchers believe Neanderthals survived in Europe until the arrival of fully modern
humans about 30,000 years ago although controversial findings last year suggested they
might have survived until as recently as 24,000 years ago.
The team produced a DNA sequence from the fragmented Neanderthal MC1R gene to make a
modified copy they could study in a test tube, the researchers said.
This allowed the team to determine that the gene produced the same level of the chemical
melanin as in people with red hair and light skin.
The variation itself was different than in modern humans but the result was the same.
Light skin would have been an evolutionary advantage for Neanderthals by allowing them to
soak up more vitamin D from the sun in cloudy Europe, the researchers said.
The findings also provide important clues about Neanderthal and human evolution, and
represent the first of many such experiments likely to use the same DNA technique to learn
far more than could be gleaned from fossils alone, researchers said.
We have always had a bottleneck on the number of fossils we can work on,
Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, said
in a telephone interview.
There will be more studies looking at specific genes that are interesting.
END OF REPORT