Blond hair is usually considered an attribute for Caucasians. However, outside Europe, a rare group of people with blond hair exist. These are the residents of the Solomon Islands, and they are called ‘Melanesians’. A few thousand years ago, they migrated to the South Pacific.
The term ‘Melanesia’ was initially used by Jules Dumont d’Urville, in 1832. He used this name because the ethnic groups in Melanesia were different from those in Polynesia and Micronesia. More than 90% of Melanesians lived rural lives until recently, continuing practices like slavery, cannibalism, etc. Currently, the majority of Melanesians practice Christianity, thanks to European influence. Also, over 100 languages are still in use in Melanesia.
Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania, and it extends from the west end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea and east to Fiji. Some countries in this region are the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji. The Solomon Islands, although within the British Commonwealth, is an independent state.
People In The Solomon Island Are The Only Natural Black Blonds In The World
The residents of the Solomon Islands have gained fame as they are the only natural black blonds on Earth. Although they have one of the darkest skins outside Africa, 5-10% of them possess blond hair.
Through the years, researchers put forward numerous theories to explain this mind-blowing phenomenon. Some of them include high fish intake, high exposure to the sun, salt whitening, flow of genes by Europeans, etc.
A Homegrown Genetic Variant Causes Their Blond Hair
However, these arguments came to an end after a recent study done by the Stanford University School of Medicine. Evidence from this study suggests that the reason for this unusual phenomenon is a homegrown genetic variant. This variant differs from that of European blonds.
Carlos Bustamante, a genetics professor at Stanford and co-senior study author, explained:
Sean Myles, the present assistant professor at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, along with Max Planck and Mark Stoneking, visited the Solomon Islands to conduct research on the variations of languages and their correlation to genetic variations. Fascinated by the blond-haired natives, Miles stated:
Myles and Nicholas Timpson, Ph.D., traveled to the Solomon Islands to get some additional data from residents. They evaluated the skin color and hair color of participants using a light reflectance meter. They also took their height, weight, and blood pressure readings. To extract DNA, spit samples were collected. The two were able to conduct genetic analysis on over 1000 hair and saliva samples.
Results Suggested The Existence Of A Single Gene
The initial result of the analysis came within the first week. It signaled the existence of a single gene, which rarely occurs in science.
Genetic samples of 43 blonds and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders were used to conduct the analysis. They also discovered that the reason for the Melanesians’ dark skin and blond hair is a native gene called TYRP1. This gene is absent in blond Caucasians.
This is a recessive gene. It’s commonly seen in children and darkens upon aging.
Melanesians Independently Developed This Gene
Another research conducted using 52 people across the world showed that this gene doesn’t appear in European genomes, suggesting that the gene developed in Melanesians independently.
The evidence further suggests that this gene is different from the one that’s responsible for blue eyes. The gene responsible for blue eyes also originated from a single common ancestor, 6-10 millenniums ago. Till then, blue eyes didn’t exist.
As claimed by Bustamante, although this discovery has solved a major genetic mystery, there might be dangers of genome findings of one population shifting to another. He explained that if a broad range of populations is not considered when designing the upcoming generations of medical treatments using genetic information, some populations might overly benefit from them, while the rest might be harmed. He is searching for funds to analyze the rest of the data.
Expressing the beauty of this new discovery, Myles stated that it’s a fantastic example of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is a situation where similar outcomes are bought forward by completely different sources.