Scientists have, for the first time, identified specific genes linked to graying hair, eyebrow and beard thickness, and unibrows, in a study of the genomes of more than 6,000 Latin Americans. The findings could help reconstruct what a person looks like from their DNA — useful in forensics and anthropology.

Each of the genes the team found was already known to play a role in related traits, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications. For instance, the gene IRF4, which was associated with graying hair, is also involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin, and eye color.

The study's population made the comparisons possible. The volunteers had highly mixed ancestry; this particular group was a mix of European (48 percent), Native American (46 percent), and African (6 percent) descent. Most past studies on hair genetics have taken place in Europe, which only represents a small portion of human diversity. And even then, those studies were mostly focused on the frequency of the traits, says Andrés Ruiz-Linares, a biosciences professor at University College London and a co-author of the paper.

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