We are often spotted on holiday cowering underneath paddling-pool sized sun hats having turned ourselves Marcelle Marceau white under layers of suncream.
But we flame haired folks can trace our heritage back to the first intrepid explorers that traveled from Africa to northern Europe.
It is now believed that the mutation that caused V60L allele otherwise known as the ‘ginger gene’, occurred around 50,000 years ago.
We gained our distinctive colouring as our skin lightened leaving behind only fragments of UV protective melaninand a freckled epidermis allowing us to get more vitamin D from infrequent and weaker sunlight.
However, it has also increased our risk of melanomas – the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The mutation remains common across Europe, even in those with no outward signs.
For ‘rufosity’ to occur in an offspring, the gene needs to be carried by both parents as it is a recessive gene.
Researchers made the discovery while examining the evolutionary processes of particular genes of 1,000 people from Spain.
Study author Dr Saioa Lopez said: “As a consequence of depigmentation there has been a collateral damage consequence to health.
‘This can be reconciled if we assume that melanoma is typically a post-reproductive disease, and consequently should have little effect on the individual’s genetic contribution to the next generation.’
The study was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
My childhood was regularly punctuated with taunts of “Oy – carrot top, ginger nut, Duracell”, “who wants a ginger biscuit?”, “can I join the dots on your freckles?”and the like. If only I’d had access to this research, how different my awkward teen years might have been, feeling so persecuted for the genetic curse of flame red hair and freckles.
Surely I could have quipped back “Yeah what of it? I’m not only more evolved than you, but I also have developed a superpower, with my sporadic arrangement of melanin, I am able to absorb vitamin D up to 10 times faster than you my swarthy brunette tormentor!”
OK maybe not, I’m also oppressed by gravity and at a gargantuan and 5 foot 1 it’s probably a good thing that instead I stuck with the time tested advice for dealing with bullies and “ignored them,” aided by my Walkman and a large hat!