Scientists believe the ‘ginger gene’ could be key to a study on why some people keep their youthful appearance as they get older.
Images of more than two and a half thousand faces were judged to assess how old people looked and then the DNA of those that appeared younger than they actually were was studied. All the evidence pointed to the MC1R gene – which is the gene responsible for skin pigmentation and hair colour.
The study was carried out by the Erasmus University Medical Centre. Dr Davin Gunn was part of the team involved. He said: “You meet two people you haven’t seen for 10 years, and you happen to notice one doesn’t look a day older than you remember and then the other person you think ‘Wow what happened to them?’.”
The gene MC1R makes melanin for the body to protect the skin from UV radiation from the sun. However, MC1R comes in many different forms, one of which causes red hair. This gene has been nicknamed the ‘ginger gene’.
The scientists found that people that contained this ginger gene were perceived to be on average two years younger than they actually were.
Prof Manfred Kayser, from Erasmus, said: “The exciting part is we actually found the gene. It is exciting because this is a well-known phenomenon that so far cannot be explained – why do some people look so much younger?”
The scientists investigated further to see if the ginger gene might alter skin damage from the sun more efficiently, and so result in a more youthful appearance. However, they couldn’t find any evidence to support this theory.
Dr Gunn hopes in the future they will be able to create a product to make people appear younger. He said: “This is the first genetic study ever of perceived age, ideally we’d want something to boost this gene for everybody.”