A team of researchers have scanned genes that are known to impact hair color and found that analyzing an individual’s DNA can predict their hair color with a high degree of accuracy. There are upwards of a dozen or so genes that may contribute to hair color in some way, and mutations that change a single nucleotide (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, or SNPs) in a gene are largely responsible for color and shade differences. From a summary in Wired Science:

To see if hair color could be predicted using 45 SNPs from 13 genes, Kayser and his team sampled DNA from 385 Polish volunteers and had dermatologists record their hair color. Their testing singled out 13 SNPs on 11 genes that could predict red and black hair colors with about 90 percent accuracy, as well as blond and brown colors with better than 80 percent accuracy.

As if you needed another excuse not to leave your DNA at a crime scene…

One of the genes examined in this study was MC1R, mutations in which have been linked specifically to red hair. Interestingly, the red hair genotype has been identified in some Neandertal individuals (although the specific mutation is different from that seen among modern humans). 

References

Branicki, W., Liu, F., van Duijn, K., Draus-Barini, J., Pośpiech, E., Walsh, S., Kupiec, T., Wojas-Pelc, A., Kayser, M. (2011). Model-based prediction of human hair color using DNA variants. Human Genetics.

Lalueza-Fox, C., Römpler, H., Caramelli, D., Stäubert, C., Catalano, G., Hughes, D., Rohland, N., Pilli, E., Longo, L., Condemi, S., de la Rasilla, M., Fortea, J., Rosas, A., Stoneking, M., Schöneberg, T., Bertranpetit, J., Hofreiter, M. (2007). A melanocortin 1 receptor allele suggests varying pigmentation among Neanderthals. Science 318: 1453-1455. 

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