Your Lying Eyes

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30 August 2005

Why Redheads Face Greater Cancer Risk

Scientists have found that red pigment (pheomelanin), when exposed to ultra-violet radiation, releases more free radicals than dark pigment (eumelanin). In Mutants, Armand LeRoi posits that redheads are indeed mutants, since it appears that it's essentially a defective gene (MC1R) that causes it. Since people in northern latitudes don't really need dark skin, this gene could just be randomly mutating without ill effect (at least to procreation). The whole mystery of red and blonde hair is a pretty interesting genetic conundrum. Here's a good accessible layman's overview, this one's very technical (with similar links), and an interesting evolutionary theory.
Another "mutation," lefthandedness, presents another evolutionary conundrum. A recent theory suggests that lefthanded DNA survived because lefties are better fighters.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If red hair was simply the result of a random mutation, it was a happy one. Redheads are strikingly overrepresented among outstanding European historical figures, particularly in the arts. Plus, red-headed women are beautiful!

September 04, 2005 4:04 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

That no doubt helps keep redheads around - if it were a typically unattractive trait it no doubt would have died off years ago. The MC1R gene, which controls pigmentation (at least to a large extent) also appears to have neurological effects, apparently leading to increased resistance to anaesthesia among redheads. Here's a technical article but Google around on this topic and you'll find lots of articles.

September 04, 2005 3:15 PM  

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