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Opinion

Natural redheads are endangered

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February 2, 2007

During the J-term break, I came across a scientific study released in 2005 regarding redheads. These persons contain a recessive gene in their DNA on the 16th chromosome.

According to the study conducted by the Oxford Hair Institute in England, the gene for red hair in humans is likely to disappear in less than a century. If true, this not only means that natural redheads will disappear from the population within about five generations, but the genetic possibility of red hair would end as well, rendering the mutation, for lack of a better word, extinct.

Naturally this interested me, not only as someone who’s grown up with red hair, but also as a pessimist who always secretly believed someone was out to remove him from the gene pool.

Today, only 4 percent of the six-and-a-half billion people on the planet possess the so-called “ginger gene;” since it’s a recessive trait, even less are actual redheads. This number changes depending on what part of the world you’re looking at. However, no matter where you go, red hair is becoming harder to find.

For instance, in most of Asia, it is non-existent. Even in parts of Scotland and Ireland, the area of the world usually associated with red hair, redheads rarely make up more than 10 percent of the population. In the United States, we average about one percent, and that number is decreasing. Extrapolated down, this means that there are about 60 to 70 of us genetic outliers left on this campus, faculty and staff included.

The accuracy of Oxford’s findings is still up for debate in the scientific community. The gene for red hair was discovered only a decade ago. Though there seems to be agreement that red hair is becoming much less common in the population, many experts believe that there are too many genetic and geographical factors concerning hair color that are not fully understood to say conclusively either way.

But, just in case, I felt I should pay tribute to some noteworthy red-haired individuals:

Tom Robbins — In his novel Still Life with Woodpecker, Robbins refers to redheads as “children of the moon,” their hair a product of an addiction to sugar and sex; an accurate description.

Ronald McDonald — Would Happy Meals really be as happy if they came from an overly-friendly clown with blond hair?

Judas Iscariot — Many historical texts describe the apostle who turned Jesus Christ over to the Romans as having red hair. Whether you’re Christian or not, you have to admit that anyone who would betray the son of God for thirty pieces of silver has got to have some balls.

And let’s not forget Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Queen Elizabeth I, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Jefferson, Jean-Paul Satre, Mark Twain, Vincent Van Gogh and Christopher Columbus — all of them are redheads. Needless to say, we will leave an ever-lasting imprint on the history of the world.

So, make a red-headed friend today. Because, after they die — or their hair turns gray — you may never see another one again.

Tyler Liedman is a student at UW-River Falls.