The Mystery Of The Blond Islanders
Off the north-eastern coast of Australia, lie a group of thousand little islands in the Pacific Ocean. Together, they are known as Solomon Islands, and are inhabited by dark-skinned indigenous people. However, there is one island trait that has caught the attention of many a visitor and puzzled scientists. Nearly 10% of the island's inhabitants have blond hair!
So far, it had been assumed that European explorers who colonized the islands in the 19th century may have mingled with the local population and introduced the blond gene. The islanders point to the intense sun, and a diet heavy in fish as reasons for light colored hair. Now scientists have another explanation.
In a recently released study by U.S and U.K researchers, the blondes of Solomon Islands do not owe their hair color to imported genes -- they are truly 'homegrown'!
Solomon Islands along with Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other smaller islands are collectively known as Melanesia. They lie very close to the Asian and Australian continents. Scientists believe these islands were once connected to the mainland and started drifting apart 70,000 years ago. The people living on Solomon Islands are known as Melanesians, and are a melting pot of many different island cultures. The earliest settlers that migrated out of Africa arrived on the island around 30,000 BC. In 4,000 BC, the indigenous people from Australia brought their distinct culture and were followed by the Polynesians.
The islands were untouched by the Western world until the arrival of missionaries in mid-19th century. This prolonged isolation meant the islanders have a unique set of genes that have evolved over centuries.
It is a well known fact that natural blond hair is rare on Earth. For their study, scientists analyzed saliva samples from 43 blondes, and an equal number of dark-haired islanders. As we had written HERE, genes contain the blueprint for our entire body, including features such as hair and eye color. These genes hang out in threads called chromosomes.
The results showed that a single protein on chromosome 9 had made all the difference and led to blond hair in some islanders. The researchers also checked if the same protein had been responsible for blond hair in Europeans -- and the answer was a no. The team went on to identify the gene responsible, TYRP1, which encodes an enzyme previously known to cause pigmentation (color) changes in mice and humans.
It is surprising that a rare hair color has evolved twice independently in two different parts of the world as a result of genetic mutation (change). Here is a video with images of children from Solomon Islands.