Scientists Discover ‘Blonde’ Gene

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

A single nucleic acid change from adenosine to guanine (A to G) in “junk” DNA (DNA that scientists used to think wasn’t used for anything) reduces the activity of the KITLG gene.  This single mutation has been found to change a brunette to a blonde.  What’s interesting is the mutation doesn’t change skin color, eye color, or intelligence (many people often assume that blondes are light-skinned, blue-eyed, and “dumb,” but of course this is not always the case!).  The mutation doesn’t cause every shade of blonde hair – it is responsible for the blonde colors common among many Icelandic and Scandinavian people (and is found in about one-third of northern Europeans).  Several other regions of the chromosome also influence hair color.

Scientists didn’t find this blonde mutation when studying humans or mice to start – they were studying stickleback fish!  These fish can change their color when the water gets more murky or clear. They then studied mice with and without this mutation, and found when the mice have an “A,” they are brown, and when they had a “G,” they became a lighter brown.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.