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Residents of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific have some of the darkest skin seen outside of Africa. They also have the highest occurrence of blond hair seen in any population outside of Europe. Now, researchers have found the single gene that explains these fair tresses.
A single mutation is responsible for almost half of the variation in Solomon Islanders' hair color, the scientists reported Thursday (May 3) in the journal Science. Most strikingly, this gene mutation seems to have arisen in the Pacific, not been brought in by fair-haired Europeans intermarrying with islanders.
"[T]he human characteristic of blond hair arose independently in equatorial Oceania," study researcher Eimear Kenny, a postodoctoral scholar at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "That's quite unexpected and fascinating."
A genome-wide analysis turned up a shockingly clear result, rare in the world of genetics where a single trait can be influenced by dozens or more genes. A gene called TYRP1, which resides on the ninth chromosome of human's 23 pairs of chromosomes, explained 46.4 percent of the variation in the islanders' hair color. (Chromosomes are coiled packets of DNA.) A mutation in this gene affects an enzyme known to be involved in human pigmentation, the researchers found.
This mutation doesn't appear in European genomes, an analysis of genomes from 52 human populations around the world revealed. Rather, it seems to have arisen independently and persisted in the Melanesian population