Sunday, 1 April 2012

Endangered species

The IUCN (Internatinal Union for Conservation of Nature) red (ironic) list has added "gingers" as a "sub species" that is potentially endangered. To be fair it's in the lowest category of "least concern".
I think that's a first for people as it's not like gingers are a separate species. It's shocking news for me reading this information on a sunny early april morning. What exactly does being added to this list mean for me? Why are gingers dying out and what can be done to save us?

Why are gingers ginger?
Some people/cultures seem to think being Ginger is a "choice" but it's actually due to a very well characterised mutation that occurs mainly in the melanocortin-1 receptor (MCR-1) or the "ginger gene" as I like to call it. The mutation itself is recessive meaning you have to have 2 copies of the mutation in order to turn out ginger. If you only have one copy of the "ginger gene" then you will have dark hair but will be a "carrier" of the ginger gene. This is why dark haired parents (who are unwittingly carriers) can have ginger children - it has nothing to do with the ginger milkman/postman (in most cases). The MCR-1 mutation causes an imbalance of melanin levels in that eumelanin (dark pigment) is much lower than that of pheomelanin (the reddish pigment) which is why gingers have ginger hair and often have paler skin and freckles.

But Why are there gingers?
Most mutations are usually deleterious unless they have an advantage which begs the question of why gingers still exist? There are two theories. The first is that there may be a selective advantage to being ginger. This theory is based on the observation that gingers mainly exist in colder northern climates where sunlight levels are lower. We can create vitamin D in our skin by using sunlight and this is important for having strong bones and preventing diseases like rickets. People with lighter skin should theoretically be better at making Vitamin D in regions of low light intensity than those with dark skin. This would have given the gingers a slight advantage over his fellow humans which may have made all the difference during the ice-age. The downside is that gingers are far more sensitive to UV light and the risk of skin cancer is higher which leads to the second theory.
Gingers only exist because of the lack of negative selection. This scenario points out that there aren't many gingers in warm/sunny climates, such as Africa, because the amount of sunburn they would get would be a massive disadvantage. When humans moved out of Africa into colder climates then the negative selection was removed and gingers remain not because of any advantage but simply because there isn't a big enough disadvantage.
Personally I prefer the first option as I'd rather be a really lame X-men character than a mutant who only really exists because the random fluke of genetic drift theory.

Why are gingers going extinct?
Clearly it's all the fault of global warming and loss of the ozone. As the world gets warmer and sunnier it becomes harder for gingers to survive to child producing aid. It also means that any potential advantage our pale skin gave in generating vitamin D has now been outweighed by the increased chance of sunburn and potential skin cancer. Basically, gingers are like other mammals that were ideally suited for the Ice-Age, such as the Wooly Mammoth and Sabre toothed tiger and can't handle the world's warming clinate.
A slightly less flattering idea is that gingers are sexually selected against but that sounds like madness!

What can be done to save the gingers?
I'm going to assume that everyone reading this wants to save gingers. So how can we achieve this? Well being recognised as an endangered species is obviously a good start as it means the world we start taking the problem seriously. One idea is to try and create a ginger reserve - a place where gingers can roam safely in an environment/climate that doesn't have much sunlight (or at least low intensity sunlight). The obvious place to create such a reserve is Scotland. There's a reason why it already has one of the highest ginger to normal ratios in the world and that's because it's cold and dark and usually cloudy or raining on days where there may be sunlight. By creating a reserve where gingers could congregate and set up dark-favouring communities, the chance of ginger survival is bound to increase. If only because there would be an increased chance of gingers getting together and making ginger babies, which leads me onto the other potenital solution.

Gingers need to have more children! For immediate results, ginger men and women should get together and produce as many children as they can afford/manage. Because the ginger mutation is recessive it means that two gingers are virtually guaranteed to produce ginger offspring (although you may get a "revertant" baby that has a secondary mutation that "rescues" the ginger mutation).
A long term and potentially more effective way of saving gingers is for them to just have more children with any partner regardless of hair colour. This means the chance of having a ginger child is greatly reduced but it would mean that there would be a generation of "carriers" out there acting as "sleeper" agents. Come the second generation there would be a lot more gingers popping up based on statistical chance alone.
Obviously female gingers are linited by how many children they can produce meaning the burden of responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of male gingers. They should really make it their duty to have as many children as possible if they want to save gingers.

But what if you're not a ginger and want to help?
Well, my advice would be that if you know a ginger you should strongly consider having sex with them to help propagate the ginger gene into future generations. Have a look through your family history, if you have a ginger relative you may yourself already carry a copy of the much coveted ginger gene. Imagine how cool it would be to have a ginger baby? Availabity is a huge factor in what makes something trendy and you could be at the cutting edge with that ginger sprog. Failing that you can always create some sleeper agents and hold out hope for that ginger grandchild in the future.
You have the power to make a difference! and with great power comes great responsibility ;)

EDIT: This post may be riddled with typos as i have limited internet and the spellcheck requires a connection.

EDIT 2 : I'm assuming everyone is familiar with the concept of April fool's day and that 90% of this post is a part of that fine tradition? There are grains of truth within the post but Ginger's aren't going anywhere soon and they are not endangered.


  1. Would it be really non-pc of me to suggest the equivalent of the zoo breeding programmes for endangered species? Maybe slightly less controversial: We could ask all the dating websites to start MCR-1 screening people and bring together those with the ginger versions of the gene... Just a suggestion.

  2. All suggestions are welcome! I'm glad you're thinking outside the box (or within the cage).
    Hopefully the day wont come when gingers are bred in captivity but these things may one day have to be considered. Hopefully there is at least a lot of ginger eggs and sperm in deep freeze in case of emergencies.

    Although there was an article in the news recently about some sperm banks refusing to accept ginger sperm as they had too much of it/couldn't get rid of it. It infers something about ginger men...

    Your second idea is a great one. It could be a great way for carriers to make proactive choices. The only potential drawback is that some people may use this information to avoid relationships with carriers - much like was discussed in the south park episode.