Researchers have discovered a key gene associated with maintaining a youthful appearance.
There has been a long-standing issue in science as to why some people seem to retain a youthful appearance and others do not. This week scientists from the Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Unilever conducted a study to address this, published in the journal Current Biology.
The researchers identified mutations in genes associated with protecting the body from UV radiation. The name of the key gene is MC1R which is critical for making melanin and in doing so provides protection against harmful UV radiation.
The gene has multiple different variants and many of them cause red hair. Therefore this MC1R gene is often termed the ‘ginger gene’.
The study involved the use of photos of 2,693 people without any make-up. Then the images were shown researchers who were asked to comment on how old they thought the people in the images were (ie their perceived age) within a 5 year age bracket. This age was then compared to the true age. The next step involved searching the genomes of the 2,693 people to see if there were any particularly common mutations in those individuals who appeared to be particularly younger than their actual age. The results all pointed to the M1CR gene.
Although the research points to the M1CR gene it is not yet clear why MC1R makes such an impact. One hypothesis was that different variants may alter skin damage from the sun but this didn’t stand up to tests.
However the results are not crystal clear. Of the four variants of MC1R investigated, people who carried two copies of these four variants were associated with looking older (by around 2 years) rather than younger.
Another point raised by Professor Ian Jackson from the UK Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit was that the MC1R gene was not the fountain of youth. Instead paler skin may just lead to the appearance of younger skin. Additionally genetics isn’t the only thing to consider when investigating ageing – environmental impact is also very important and our lifestyle (such as alcohol consumption and smoking). Still, further research is planned and one of the lead authors Dr Gunn hopes their work will eventually lead to some sort of product that will make people will appear younger.