Does the 'ginger gene' hold the key to anti-ageing?

Researchers suggest link between perceived age and red hair gene

Researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center, working in partnership with Unilever, have discovered genetic evidence that partially explains the difference between how old we are and how old we look.

The project saw 2,700 people assessed for their perceived age in photographs and used DNA testing to determine whether those who looked young for their aged shared any similar DNA variants to those who looked older.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the study showed that people who carried two copies of the gene MC1R looked up to two years older than those without any. Those who carried one copy of the gene looked an average of one year older than they really were. The gene in question was previously best known for its link to red hair, pale skin and freckles – attributes also connected to a number of other identified genes. Individuals without this gene were deemed to look younger than their actual age, independent of skin colour, exposure, sex and number of wrinkles. This is the first time a gene associated with perceived ageing has been identified.

Study Lead Professor Manfred Kayser explained: “Discovering the gene involved in perceived age is important, because it opens the door for identifying more, which we know exist, and we now know are possible to find. Our finding marks another step in understanding ageing differences between people and provides new leads to identify the molecular links between perceived age, chronological age and biological age.”

Dr David Gunn, Senior Scientist at Unilever, added: “This research is tremendously exciting and opens up brand new understanding of why some people maintain a more youthful appearance as they age. By learning the ‘secrets’ of those who look young for their age, we can find innovative ways to help everybody keep younger looking for longer in the future.”

The study's authors reiterated that there are a range of genes involved in perceived ageing and the team plans to continue looking for other genes that influence appearance and age.

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