A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, has identified the gene responsible for giving people grey hair.
It is hoped the findings could lead to innovative treatments to prevent this side-effect of getting older.
The researchers, which included scientists from University College London, as well as other international institutions, looked at the DNA samples of more than 6,000 volunteers.
A "diverse melting pot", participants were of European, Native American and African ancestry.
IRF4, a gene identified by the researchers, is responsible for managing a pigment key in natural hair, skin and eye colour called melanin. Found on chromosome six, it's unlikely that it is the only gene responsible for causing grey hair, but it provides a new exciting target for further studies.
Melanocytes, which are found on the root of the hair, produce pigments that give hair its natural colour. However, as people age, pigments stop being produced and hair goes grey and loses it natural colour.
It is thought that there are many genetic and even some environmental factors that have an impact on this area of ageing, and IRF4 has now been identified as a key element in this change.
Lead author Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London, said several genes had already been identified that cause balding, but this study is the first time that one had been found to cause hair to become grey.
"It was only possible because we analysed a diverse melting pot of people, which hasn't been done before on this scale," she explained.
Dr Adhikari added that it's unlikely that the gene found during the research works alone, but has a key role to play, along with many other factors, which are yet to be identified.
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