THOUSANDS of Scots have now had their DNA tested by a unique project to discover their earliest origins.
The man behind the ScotlandsDNA research initiative, Borders broadcaster and author Alistair Moffat, has now turned the microscope on his own family’s genes in an attempt to unravel a perplexing question involving Scottish hair colour.
“Neither Lindsay nor I have red hair,” Mr Moffat explained, referring to his wife.
“I don’t have much, red or otherwise – and there is no history of it in our families
“But our oldest two, Adam and Helen, are glorious redheads – and different tints of red.
“I wanted to find out how many Scots are carriers and why we have the most redheads in the world, per capita.”
The high Scottish proportion of redheads is startling compared to other countries, according to Mr Moffat.
He added: “Current statistics are incomplete and provisional, but they indicate that between two per cent and six per cent of northwestern Europeans have red hair, compared with an average of only one per cent to two per cent in the world’s population as a whole.
“In Scotland it seems that around 13 per cent have red hair, that is 650,000 people, but at least 30 per cent are unknowing carriers – and this percentage may be much higher.
“At least 1.6million Scots carry a redhead gene variant and most are unaware that they do.”
However, the former STV chairman believes there could be a rival nation to Scotland for the title of the red-hair capital of the world.
“In Ireland, about 10 per cent have red hair, but it appears that a staggering 46 per cent are carriers of the redhead variants, he added.
“For England, the estimate is six per cent but this is highly provisional and there are no current figures available for the number of carriers.
“But the largest redhead population in the world is in the USA, where between 6million and 18million have it, and very many more carry the variants.”
Redhead carriers commonly have one of three different variants – Cysteine, carried by 10 per cent of British people; Tryptophan (nine per cent); and Histidine (2.5 per cent).
In his family’s case, Mr Moffat discovered his wife carries the Tryptophan red variant while he has the Cysteine red – both being 70,000 years old.
The research by ScotlandsDNA into the issue includes a £25 test which will show whether a person is a carrier of the gene variant.
It is expected 4,000 individuals will be checked before findings are announced early next year. Of the two theories – that red hair comes from European Neanderthals or is due to Britain’s climate – Mr Moffat believes the former can be ruled out.
“Archaeologists have discovered around 400 Neanderthal skeletons across Europe and the near east,” said the current St Andrew’s University rector.
“DNA testing shows that some had red hair and fair skin. But the variant was different from that seen in modern humans, and although we cross-bred with Neanderthals, early speculation that they were the source of the red hair in modern Europeans is now thought to be just that.”
Mr Moffat told us: “We hope to create a red hair map of Scotland and that might show a correlation between cloudy places and more redheads.”