Disturbing: Humans Can Still Grow a Full Coat of Fur, Study Says

close up of a young bornean orangutan's arm, pongo pygmaeus, 18 months old, isolated on white
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  • A new study researched body hair across mammals to see how genes interact with hair growth.

  • It turns out the genes are still in place for humans to grow a full fury coat.

  • The study says differing patterns of hair growth and development coincided with evolutionary patterns.

This could get hairy: A new study from scientists at the University of Utah and University of Pittsburgh, published in the journal eLife, shows that a set of genes and regulatory regions of the genome appear essential for making hair. And it seems humans actually have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but the researchers believe evolution simply “disabled them.”

“We have taken the creative approach of using biological diversity to learn about or own genetics,” Nathan Clark, a human geneticist now at Utah and a study coauthor, says in a news release. “This is helping us to pinpoint regions of our genome that contribute to something important to us.”

Exploring why some mammals have much less body hair than others led the group of three researchers to start comparing genetic codes from 62 animals. The scientists believe their study shows how regulatory regions of the genome influence the hair-growing process indirectly, guiding when and where certain genes turn on and just how much hair is made. They say they uncovered genes for which a role in sprouting hair had not yet been defined, possibly highlighting a new set of genes that could be involved in growing hair.

“There are a good number of genes we don’t know much about them,” Amanda Kowalczyk, an evolutionary genomes researcher now at Carnegie Mellon University and study coauthor, says in a news release. “We think they could have roles in hair growth and maintenance.”

The scientists say evolutionary processes changed the way genes acted, allowing some mammals to grow less hair. Clark says:

“As animals are under evolutionary pressure to lose hair, the genes encoding hair become less important. That’s why they speed up the rate of genetic changes that are permitted by natural selection. Some genetic changes might be responsible for loss of hair. Others could be collateral damage after hair stops growing.”

The scientists think the research could eventually lead to new ways to recover hair in humans. They also believe they’ve unlocked a new approach to defining genetic regions, potentially helping researchers understand a host of additional health conditions.

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