Utah professor’s team may have figured out why we lost our fur coats

Jan 25, 2023, 6:17 PM | Updated: 7:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists at the University of Utah and the University of Pittsburgh think they know the genes that made us lose our fur coats.

University of Utah associate professor Nathan Clark, while at the University of Pittsburgh with Amanda Kowalczyk and Maria Chikina, compared the genes of 62 mammals, including some hairless species, like us.

Hairless mamals

The researchers studied several hairless mammals.

The results point to genes and other parts of the genome that they think are responsible for growing hair.

“What we wanted to do is determine the genetic regions of the genome. So, genes and regulatory regions that control the formation and maintenance of hair,” Clark said.

Sequencing data

The research team compared the genomes of haired and hairless species, looking for genes in the latter that evolved at faster rates. A gene that determines hair color, maybe isn’t important in a hairless animal and might mutate faster without impacting survival. (KSL TV)

Scientists think we lost our body hair when we started walking and left the jungle for warmer climates.

“We developed a very strong ability to sweat, and hair would interfere with that cooling process,” Clark said.

They had some idea of which genes were involved but they didn’t have the whole picture.

The research team compared the genomes of haired and hairless species, looking for genes in the latter that evolved at faster rates. The idea is that those genes say, for example, a gene that determines hair color, aren’t important in a hairless animal and so will mutate at faster rates without impacting survival.

Whales were among the hairless mammals studied

Whales were among the hairless mammals studied.

Clark said the research is not so much about hair, but about understanding how genes work. He said that could have an impact on curing diseases.

“We could also learn where they’re important in other structures like the eye or the liver, or the gastrointestinal tract, any other place that might be important in health and disease,” Clark said.

Will this mean, you might be wondering, a permanent cure for baldness is almost at hand?

“Not yet. But I’m sure there are a couple of companies out there that would love to have a patent on that,” he added.

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Utah professor’s team may have figured out why we lost our fur coats