Rumor: Redheads could be extinct in 100 years

Britain's Prince Harry answers questions at the private view of the ''Sentebale - Stories of Hope'' exhibition.

Will there be no future Nicole Kidman or Prince Harry look-alikes because naturally born redheads are going the way of the Dodo bird?

FALSE: It's a hardy perennial rumor, which we'll explain in a minute. But it's wrong, experts say.  

Redheads could be extinct in 100 years, states a story that has floated around on the Internet for quite some time. Much like the story that blondes will be extinct in 200 years, the extinction of redheads theory has raised many doubts and disbelief.

"People really shouldn't believe everything they read on the Internet...There is no scientifically compelling basis to the claim that redheads will become extinct in 100 years," Joshua Akey, associate professor of genome sciences at University of Washington, told MSN News.

The widely-circulated story seems to have been spurred on by this statement: "As migration, inter-marriage and mixing increases, we will see them [redheads] all but disappear," Desmond Tobin of Bradford University said in a 2003 article in The Scotsman. And The Daily Mail dropped the word "but" in its version of the quote, making the ending read forcefully: "We will see them all disappear."

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"If predictions by the Oxford Hair Foundation come to pass, the number of natural redheads everywhere will continue to dwindle until there are none left by the year 2100," states the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle in an article reposted on other sites.

Some other older articles also credit the factoid to the Oxford Hair Foundation, which seems to have since dissolved. (And oh, Smithsonian Magazine says the hair foundation depended on funding from hair dye-maker Procter & Gamble, reportedly adding to doubts.)  Some articles — improbably — credit National Geographic with the factoid, but try as we might, no search of National Geographic came up with the magazine predicting human redheads would go the way of Neanderthals.   

'It will never happen'

Even though red hair is relatively uncommon, many people are carriers for the variant, Akey notes. Just as a simple example, let's assume that 4 percent of Europeans have red hair, he says. This implies that about 30 percent are carriers for a genetic variant that can lead to red hair, he says. A hundred years — or four or five generations — "is too short of a timeframe for the variants that cause red hair to disappear from the gene pool."

"It will never happen. Zero chance. I promise you," Soochin Cho, a Creighton University assistant professor specializing in evolutionary genomics, assured a redheaded Omaha World-Herald columnist. Laughing, the professor added: "Even if we don't allow you to get married, it will still exist! It is essentially impossible to get rid of it!"

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MSN News seeks to give up-to-date information on rumors related to current events, people or even topics/issues of interest. We'll tell you what we can confirm from the rumor mill — and what we can't. If we can’t confirm a rumor, we'll share what we do know about it.

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