For decades we’ve heard scare reports claiming that redheads could become ‘extinct’.
Last week Dr Alistair Moffat, managing director of ScotlandsDNA, suggested that climate change could bring about the end of the red headed gene.
Red hair is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene. It was thought that people developed paler skin to help them produce vitamin D in places where the sun isn’t so bright or hot. The downside is that the skin would be far more vulnerable to sun damage and skin cancer.
The theory put forward by Dr Moffat is that climate change would put red headed people at a greater risk in places like Scotland where the sun would become more intense.
Dr Moffat said: “If the climate is changing and it is to become more cloudy or less cloudy then this will affect the gene.
“If it was to get less cloudy and there was more sun, then yes, there would be fewer people carrying the gene.”
Stories about redheads going extinct have been around for about a decade. They often quote the Oxford Hair Foundation, which said the recessive genes that cause red hair are in danger of dying out.
Rick Sturm of the University of Queensland has challenged Foundation to provide scientific evidence to back up their claims. He said: “there’s no shortage of red-heads.”
Scientists say that barring a disaster the red hair gene will not disappear.
As long as the gene continues to be passed through the generations it will not die out. A 2007 issue of the National Geographic argued that ‘while redheads may decline, the potential for red isn’t going away’.
Many scientists even doubt whether pale people are actually any better at producing vitamin D. Recent studies have suggested that in the Middle Ages – when people spent more time outside – people of all colours produced a suitable amount of vitamin D.
It would seem that many people may have been too quick to write off redheads. They have been around for thousands of years and it will take more than climate change to see them off.