Red-haired Neandertals

Razib beat me the the punch on the new news that some Neandertals had red hair. He’s managed to write a very thorough and informative post over at Gene Expression. Check it out. Paul Rincon, a reporter for the BBC also has news of this, here.

This is a very curious finding and the entire study will be published in Science by tomorrow. Here’s an inactive link to the publication. It should start working once Science decides its time. All I have to share with you is the following excerpt, plucked from Razib’s post,

“The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) regulates pigmentation in humans and other vertebrates. Variants of MC1R with reduced function are associated with pale skin color and red hair in humans primarily of European origin. We amplified and sequenced a fragment of the MC1R gene (mc1r) from two Neanderthal remains. Both specimens have a mutation not found in ~3700 modern humans. Functional analyses show that this variant reduces MC1R activity to a level that alters hair and/or skin pigmentation in humans. The impaired activity of this variant suggests that Neanderthals varied in pigmentation levels, potentially to the scale observed in modern humans. Our data suggest that inactive MC1R variants evolved independently in both modern humans and Neanderthals.”

Based upon Razib’s discussion on the author’s unique discovery a of non-synonymous substitution in the Neandertal MC1R of an A to a G which encodes the amino acid Arginine instead of Glyceine…. A SNP not found easily found in modern humans, I decided to look up what SNPs are known for modern humans’ MC1R. Currently, about 153 SNPS are known for modern humans’ MC1R. I haven’t bothered to translate all 153 sequences to see which ones show up an arginine where a glyceine was, but I’m pretty sure the authors did that, and screened their Neandertal specific SNP to this public data, before they published their paper.

This unique SNP reduces expression of the protein which MC1R produced, and a loss of function on MC1R, which results in fair skin and red hair. The really strange thing is that, like I said, this SNP ain’t found easily in modern humans. But in the two Neandertal samples they found, from Spain and Italy, this SNP was present.

A related curiosity is how this publication comes a week after the findings with FOXP2. One of the lead authors of the Neandertal FOXP2 paper is Carles Lalueza-Fox, is first author of the red haired Neandertal paper. It is somewhat remarkable how the FOXP2 paper got published in Current Biology, while very similar, related study from at least one of the same authors gets published in Science. Some, like myself, consider a study on hair color to be way less impacting than a study on the evolution of a language associated transcription factor. Anyways, not a very astute observation… who really knows why Science went the superficial route.

13 thoughts on “Red-haired Neandertals

  1. “Razib beat me the the punch on the new news that some Neandertals had red hair. He’s managed to write a very thorough and informative post over at Gene Expression. Check it out.”

    if i had a penny everytime john hawks made me say that…. ;-)

  2. THATS Be cause you have done no resurch on the the fact that there are red haired mummies found all over the earth.

  3. I am very curious about this late discovery , as I am attempting to write a novel on a humanoid Neandertal , that takes place in the basque country , in the Southwest of France , by the Pyrennees , basing myself on all the discoveries , that all of you passionated and professionals of Anthropology are doing …as I share your passion , about the great mystery around the fate of the Neandertals , I decided to embarque myself on the journey to write a story , half ficticious and the rest relying on your knowledge …such as the hypothesis of the red hair ! …In my story , the central caracter , is about 35 years of age , and it is taking place 35,000 years ago …so all your coments are welcomed and needed , thank you so much ! Jp Jacobi

  4. If any of the involved Anthropology specialists are interested about giving me hints about the Middle-Paleolithic era , to continue writing my novel about this 35 years old , Neanderthal man , I need some pointers about vegetation , animals , and social habits we may know of them , especially for an area close to the Basque Country , where my story is taking place some 45000 years ago …thanks to send me some info on my email at ……Thank you very much , JP

  5. I said that I was in the process to write a novel around a ficticious individual , that would be 35 years old , Neanderthal , but I made a mistake about the timeline , on my second entry I said 45000 years ago …but it was wrong , it is actually 35000 years ago…because , I wanted a window of about 5000 years overlaping with our specie , the Cromagnons .For the eventual genetic encounter of the two humanoids at a certain time … Was is the fateful reason of the Neanderthal vanishing ? … or a dramatic geological or biological interference ? … very interesting ! … I cannot wait to read more of your research & findings …any suggestion for my story , SVP email me at

  6. Hello. I am led to this string in an effort to find out what is wrong with me. I am 41 years old with red hair and brown eyes…blood type O negative. I have some sort of inflammatory issue causing my muscles to spasm and cramp in no known pattern other than increasing frequency. Can anyone shed any light as to why? Sorry to be off topic.

    1. If you do get any leads on this subject, I’d be interested to learn what you find. I’m also a redhead with muscle pains. Good luck, as I know how pain management is such a struggle.

  7. Jean-Paul, get a copy of Clive Finlayson’s latest book, The Humans Who Went Extinct: why Neanderthanls died out and we survived (Oxford U Press, 2009), and I’m sure you’ll find lots of useful & factual info for your novel. (I’m a redhead too!)

  8. My name is Mark and i am apparently finding out more info on where Red hair is from the MCIR gene i have red hair which i prefer not to have i dont like the color and it bothers me that i have such a color i would like some info on how this MCIR gene could be reversed to change the color thanks MARK

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