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August 19, 2013 06:13 PM

Are Redheads Going Extinct?

Sioux Falls, SD

The word "ginger" has been removed from the story.

Sometimes redheads get a bad rap. They are often the butt of jokes or teasing by those who don't carry the gene, but according to some genetic scientists, the future may not be so bright for people with red hair.

In fact, National Geographic scientists say redheads are becoming rarer and could be extinct in just 100 years.

Walk the streets of Sioux Falls and you'll see red isn't the most popular hair color, but those who have it are proud of it.

"I play like I'm Irish all the time," Harold Sanderson said.

"Red hair is awesome," Karrie Garry said.

"It went strawberry blonde and in the sun it turns into cellophane," Dale James said.

James even plays up his red beard, while hiding his blond hair.

"On my mother's side I have eight cousins who are all red-headed," James said.

In the United States only about two percent of people have red hair. Still, Geneticist Megan Landsverk insists redheads are not a dying breed.

"There's populations still in the U.K. where 40-percent of the population carries these particular changes," Landsverk said.

Landsverk agrees with National Geographic that the red-haired gene is recessive, but she disagrees with some scientists about redheads going extinct anytime soon.

"It's not going to happen ever probably. If so, it's not going to be a long, long time," Landsverk said.

She says it's simply that the gene may not show up in every generation in a family.

This is how this recessive gene works. Say your mom has red hair, but your dad doesn't. You have a one in four chance of having red hair, but even if you don't have red hair, you still carry the gene. That means if you marry a person who also carries the gene, you could still wind up with red-headed kids.

"There are changes in this particular gene that can give you all different variations of color," Landsverk said.

Research has shown carriers of the gene are more prone to skin cancer and are more sensitive to heat and cold-related pain. The world's largest sperm bank even turns down redheads because of low demand. Still not everyone looks forward to a world filled only with brunettes, blondes and grey-haired people.

"I think it would be horrible. It would get awfully boring walking around seeing nothing but brown and blond hair," James said.

"God I hope not. The color of the world was red," Garry said.

Research has also shown some positive news for redheads. A new study shows that red-headed men are 54 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

While they're more likely to develop skin cancer, they also often can absorb more vitamin D from the sun.

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This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The word "ginger" has been removed from the story.



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