Prof. Maria McNamara (left) and Dr Tiffany Slater pictured at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork. credit Daragh McSweeney/UCC

A pair of scientists have found fragments of ginger pigment molecules in fossilized frogs which they take to mean that most famous of genetic mutations has been around a long time.

University College Cork (UCC) paleontologists discovered molecular evidence of pheomelanin, the pigment that produces ginger coloration, in the amphibians dating back 10 million years.

On a more serious note, the findings of their study published in Nature Communications will enable scientists to better reconstruct the original colors of extinct organisms.

The research was led by UCC’s Dr. Tiffany Slater and Professor Maria McNamara who collaborated with Swedish, Japanese, and Chinese scientists.

“This finding is so exciting because it puts paleontologists in a better place to detect different melanin pigments in many more fossils,” said Dr. Slater. “This will paint a more accurate picture of ancient animal color and will answer important questions about the evolution of colors in animals.”

“Scientists still don’t know how or why pheomelanin evolved because it is toxic to animals, but the fossil record might just unlock the mystery.”

The team performed a series of lab experiments on black, ginger, and white feathers to track how pheomelanin pigments degrade during the fossilization process, which backs up their interpretations of the fossil chemistry.

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“There is huge potential to explore the biochemical evolution of animals using the fossil record,” said. Dr. MacNamara.

In humans, red hair is specifically mentioned in peoples as far back as Ancient Greece. Over time, red hair has always been pointed out as a defining feature, particularly in Northern Europe and Central Asia.

By Timothy Meinberg

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While thought to be typically Celtic, red hair was not uncommonly found in Kipchaks, Azeris, Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, and even Mongolians—in fact, some accounts put red hair and green eyes on the head of Genghis Khan himself.

However it’s Ireland where the concentration of pheomelanin is highest in humans, where roughly 10% of the population are gingers or red-headed.

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