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  • Writer's pictureSean-Jordan Baruch

Are Redheads going extinct?

In August 2007, numerous news organisations spread the alarming news that redheads, also known as "gingers," were on the brink of extinction. This story gained traction due to the "Oxford Hair Foundation" and so-called "genetic scientists," who predicted that redheads would vanish as early as 2060. However, it turns out that these claims were utterly false. Redheads are here to stay and will continue to exist well beyond 2060.

Interestingly, this story of redhead extinction had already made its rounds on the internet back in 2005, with articles once again citing the Oxford Hair Foundation as their source. These articles were based on the mistaken belief that recessive genes, such as the one responsible for red hair, could completely disappear. While recessive genes can become rare, they do not vanish entirely unless every carrier of that gene dies or fails to reproduce. Therefore, although red hair may remain uncommon, there are still enough people carrying the gene to ensure that redheads will continue to grace our world for a considerable amount of time unless a global catastrophe occurs.

Some articles discussing redhead extinction referred to the Oxford Hair Foundation as an "independent" institute or research foundation. However, a simple Google search reveals that the Oxford Hair Foundation is funded by Proctor & Gamble, which manufactures various beauty products, including red hair dye. This raises questions about the credibility of the foundation's claims.

In the most recent wave of redhead extinction warnings, some news outlets incorrectly attributed the claims to the September 2007 issue of National Geographic. While others correctly cited the case for providing statistics on redheads, the magazine only mentioned that "news reports" had claimed redheads were going extinct. The article did not explicitly support this claim but stated that while redheads may decline, the potential for red hair would not disappear. Unfortunately, the misconception about disappearing redheads has now become widespread.

Experts interviewed have unanimously dismissed the redhead extinction claim as baseless. David Pearce from the University of Rochester Medical Center criticised the scientists behind the original claim, suggesting they should double-check their calculations. Rick Sturm, a researcher in hair and skin genetics at the University of Queensland, also expressed scepticism, stating that there is no shortage of redheads and that the Oxford Hair Foundation failed to provide sufficient scientific evidence to support their findings.

The unique trait of red hair is caused by a mutation in the MC1R gene and is inherited as a recessive trait. Both parents must pass on a mutated version of the MC1R gene for a child to have red hair. Due to its recessive nature, red hair can easily skip a generation and reappear after one or more ages if both parents, regardless of their hair colour, carry the red hair gene.

If the story of redheads facing extinction sounds familiar, it may be because some people believe they are not the only hair colour at risk.


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