Human Genetics

Are genes for red and blond hair becoming extinct?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. In August 2007, several news outlets reported that redheads would be a thing of the past as early as 2060 [source: The Courier Mail]. The story had circulated on the Internet and was based on the mistaken assumption that recessive genes - - such as the one for red hair - - eventually "die out." Although recessive genes can become rare, they don't disappear unless everyone carrying the gene either fails to reproduce or dies. Barring some kind of global disaster, there's no reason redheads should become extinct by 2060 or anytime soon after. The Oxford Hair Foundation was credited for research on redheads going extinct, but it's funded by Proctor & Gamble, which sells red hair dye. A September 2007 article in "National Geographic" also was incorrectly cited as a source, when in fact the magazine's article never explicitly said redheads were going extinct; it only mentioned that some news reports had claimed so.

    Blondes have so much fun that their locks came under similar speculation a few years before redheads' did. In September 2002, many news outlets claimed that blondes would be extinct within the next 200 years. Some articles cited "German scientists" and others cited the World Health Organization (WHO). Dermatologist Jonathan Rees of the University of Edinburgh said that only some kind of evolutionary disadvantage to being a blonde could cause the gene to die out [source: BBC News]. Otherwise, although blondes may become less common over time, they won't disappear. The urban legend Web site Snopes found reports about blonde extinction dating back to the 1860s. Some of those articles claimed that blondes would die out because men prefer brunettes and more recent ones stated that men choose dyed ("bottle") blondes over natural ones. The "Washington Post" traced the 2002 story to a German women's magazine that cited a nonexistent anthropologist at WHO [source: Washington Post]. The news sources that had featured the story posted corrections.

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