Echoes of The Blonde Gene

Echoes of Finland 1 - posted

Everyone knows all Finns are blonde, right ?! Well, not really true at all. Mum had black hair. Dad’s was reddish brown. But – there does seem to be a preponderance of blondeness. This got me to thinking. So I did a quick hunt through some photos. And a bit of Google research. Boy, did I learn some interesting stuff I never knew! But first, let me introduce the blondes above. In an immediate extended family of 39 (bearing in mind this is a hasty headcount and maths is not my strong point) there are 13 blondes. That’s about a third. The definition of blondeness becomes a thorny issue upon which I stubbed my toe. How dark is  dark blonde and still considered to be  blonde? I made a subjective decision and possibly ruled out a number of dark blondes who could qualify. Is that statistically significant? Is it more than your average number of blondes in one family? I don’t know. Just thought I’d dazzle you with my scientific enquiry. Now, back to the photos for some irrefutable hard core evidence. Again, bear in mind all are not present and accounted for:

TOP ROW left to right: Me with my sister. We both had very blonde hair when we were young. As we gracefully aged, our hair did not. This, it turns out, is a common pattern of misbehaving hair. It turned a dark blond;  Me with my  brother’s daughter. Anita is the only blonde in his family. Her mum is an Aussie with dark brown hair. Erkki had dark brown hair too. It did not age gracefully either. He’s now grey; My sister’s grandson, Samuel, who is one of two blonde grandsons.

MIDDLE ROW left to right: Ritva and Lasse on their wedding day. His hair was a shade darker than hers;  Ruben, their first born. Samuel (above row) is his youngest son.

BOTTOM ROW left to right: Kimmo, my baby brother-in-law.  His hair colour has betrayed him with age as well; Ari, his son; Kia, his daughter

Now, onto the other interesting stuff I have uncovered in my quest to get a handle on blondeness.

First fascinating discovery – from Live Science

Finland - gene pool
picture credit – wikipedia

Live Science reports that a ‘rigorous, elegant, and air tight study’ has identified a genetic mutation that codes for the blonde hair of Northern Europeans.  A geneticist at Harvard University, Hopi Hoekstra (not involved in the study) says that it convincingly ties the gene to hair colour.  Now, I’m no expert when it comes to genetics but let me see if I can explain. I know, it may surprise some of you but I’ll do my best.  What they found is a single mutation in a long gene sequence called KIT ligand (KITLG). It’s found in about one third of Northern Europeans. People with these genes could have platinum blond, dirty (?!) blonde or even dark brown hair. Hang on a minute!  One third?!  Perhaps I was wrong about my maths and genetics expertise. BTW, that’s a picture of those KIT thingys.

Second fascinating discovery   

Finland bedrock

Geologists have discovered that Finland was almost totally buried under a continental ice sheet about 12,000 years ago. Gradually it melted. And like Phoenix rising out of the ashes Finland emerged. And is continuing to emerge at a rate of 8.5mm/year. Which apparently is amazingly fast. And fast enough to stay ahead of any rise in ocean levels. Wow! And I thought snails were slow!!

This site has a lot of fascinating discoveries in its extensive research into the emergence of all that is Finland. Its author does at times allow a personal surging of national pride and outrage emerge at some of the historical events that took place.

There were three periods of stasis in the melting of the ice. The phoenix that was Finland emerged and evolved majestically slowly, creating ranges that cross the entire breadth of Finland and tens of thousands of lakes. Finland is famously known as the Land of Thousands of Lakes. However, as sea levels rose, ancient inhabited localities vanished. Thus creating an air of mystery about the origins of prehistoric Finland.

Around about the 5000BC mark the climate became warm and damp. Hazel, elm, oak and linden trees, edible water chestnuts thrived, enticing migration north. Nowadays these trees are only scattered in sections of southern Finland. Artefacts also attest to a flourishing trade, with stone types not indigenous to the area. It has been conjectured that during the last ice age the Finno-Ugric group (as they are called) lived as far abroad as Holland, Britain and the Black Sea. Over time they were slowly assimilated and became the last survivors of the northern Finns.

Ancient rock art in Karelia shows evidence of Viking style ships being used. This was well before any Viking raids began. Finnish cultural history is a strong oral one, known as the Kalevala, which I wrote about a while back. There is a long and bloody history of  conflict through Finnish history ranging from the Vikings, to the Swedes, to the Russians. And a re-writing of history by the conquerors which has muddied and confused the waters of racial origin.

Third fascinating discovery

question-mark-457454__180

“The Finns are one of those people who don’t quite fit. They were ruled by Sweden (until 1809) And then by Russia until independence in 1917. They are predominantly Lutheran but their language is related to Hungarian, a string of languages across northern Russia, and, some believe, Mongolian and even Japanese…..many writers have just given up … and accepted … Finns are a ‘ unique culture’ a northern mystery that is beyond comprehension.

The question of how Finns should be understood in racial or more recently in genetic terms has provoked heated debate amongst anthropologists, geneticists and Finnish scholars for over two hundred years.”  Gee! Really?! We rock!!

Fourth fascinating discovery

rat-194807__180

‘The people in this land of lakes and forests are so alike that scientists can filter out the genes that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.’  Oh boy, it’s getting even better!!

The Department of Human Genetics at UCLA’s medical school recruited one of the world’s leading geneticists from Helsinki University to become its founding chairwoman back in 1998. Her name is Leena Peltonen. She sounds like  a pretty cluey lady, being both a physician and a molecular biologist.

What this Finn (yay!) has discovered  are the genetic sources for many rare diseases ranging from Marfan syndrome to multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, osteoarthritis and migraines. She has based her studies on DNA collected from the people in Finland. Why, one would wonder? Finland has become a DNA laboratory for mankind! For a mini population of a mere 5 million people, the Finnish contribution to medicine and genetics is impressive. Scientists have detected heritable imprints for heart disease, diabetes, asthma.  And all this because there are limited numbers of ancestors, hundreds of years of isolation leading to ‘genetic homogeneity’. We make good lab rats, apparently!

There is a downside of course. Isn’t there always? Because of hundreds of years of isolation and intermarriage (OMG – we’re inbred!!!)  there is now a large set of nasty hereditary disorders. They’ve found 39 so far. For all I know there could be oodles more. I was in such a state of shock I didn’t explore this any further. Oh no, no, no !!! Lots of them are fatal.

“In school, children are taught that Finnish genes are slightly different,” Peltonen explained. “The textbooks and public press contain significant information about them. The search for the special selection of genes—actually they are alleles—is considered as a cause for pride.”

And yet, the debate continues to rage. Does all this make Finns a race? Well, if it doesn’t , what does, I want to know?! My national outrage is rearing it’s head now.

From a cold and logically calculated scientific perspective “Race may fade away once we understand all the variants. …But for diagnostic purposes it will be useful to know where your roots are. That’s the value of the Finnish Disease Heritage. The story of these genes helps us visualize how Finland was settled.”

finland 8dc7a045b4bb6cdf09423bdf33eec1f1
Picture credit – Pinterest

Just to lighten the mood a bit, let me introduce you to

the Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

In this stunning photograph she is wearing  a

reproduction outfit based on textile and jewelry finds

in a grave at Eura, Finland, dated to approximately 1000 A.C

Isn’t it just divine?

We Finns do textiles,

national costumes and

Kalevala based jewelry so well !

In summary

Given this has turned into a bit of a scientific romp, my tertiary educated self feels obliged to end with a summation of sorts.

First, let me get it off my chest. However you take it, whether Finns are a race or not, we’re a rare breed! I’m a Finn by birth. I’m proud of it! AND I’m blonde. So there.

I must say too that I find it just a bit disconcerting to be dissolved into a diagnostically useful gene pool of Disease Heritage. Personally, I would much prefer the colourful heritage of the Kalevala Epic.  I want to finish this tome about us Finnish people by leaving you with a couple of verses from its opening rune:

MASTERED by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation’s ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.
In my mouth the words are melting,
From my lips the tones are gliding,
From my tongue they wish to hasten;
When my willing teeth are parted,
When my ready mouth is opened,
Songs of ancient wit and wisdom
Hasten from me not unwilling.

Ψ

Ψ

Ψ

These are words in childhood taught me,
Songs preserved from distant ages,
Legends they that once were taken
From the belt of Wainamoinen,
From the forge of Ilmarinen,
From the sword of Kaukomieli,
From the bow of Youkahainen,
From the pastures of the Northland,
From the meads of Kalevala.
These my dear old father sang me
When at work with knife and hatchet
These my tender mother taught me
When she twirled the flying spindle,
When a child upon the matting
By her feet I rolled and tumbled.

This was the first complete translation of the Kalevala in English, translated from Franz Anton Schiefner‘s German translation of the original Finnish.

Echoes of Finland 2 - posted

© Raili Tanska

Images unless otherwise noted are

from Pixabay

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30 thoughts on “Echoes of The Blonde Gene

  1. Isn’t it fascinating when you start delving into genetics, heritage and race. When you mix that with history, folklore and customs it really comes alive.
    Biology is so interesting. I love it. The history of humans is an amazing story. The story of migration and minor mutations. In the final analysis we are related via our shared heritage more than any minor differences.

  2. That was MOST interesting! Gish! I figure you’re just like the rest of us — living and breathing! I just had to laugh when I read: For all I know there could be oodles more. I was in such a state of shock I didn’t explore this any further. Oh no, no, no !!! 😀 I shouldn’t have but you’re such a hoot!

    1. Glad to know our genetic allele of doom has raised a laugh!! Seriously though, this was such fascinating research for me. I’m glad you thought so too 🙂
      PS – I like to make people laugh with what I write 🙂

      1. Oh Raili! I didn’t mean to dismiss your concerns about the science stuff. Please forgive me if I offended you. I’m so sorry. {{{Raili}}}

  3. Nice trek down the road of genetics and your people’s history. But I just had a thought since
    all human beings hair eventually turn grey once that get up to the golden years. Wouldn’t it be nice if scientists found a way for humans to retain their hair color. Sort of identify the grey hair gene and make a pill to repress it…..

  4. This is SO interesting! Wow and cool! I recenting did genetic testing through 23&Me. Although that site info was limited, I ran my data through another and the results were immense. I’m still digging through the data. But, I did find out that I have a gene specifically for red hair and another for freckles. I think genetics is extremely fascinating! Again thank you for your really in-depth and interesting post!

    1. Thank you so much! I really had no idea what I would unearth when I started researching for this. You’re right it is so interesting. I appreciate your reading and comments 🙂

  5. What I want to know is why isn’t there a button for OMG THIS WAS AMAZING! Where is your PHD and your Peace Prize and your BEST BLOGGER EVER award? Wow! When you hinted that you had written a piece about blondes what you omitted was that you had written a history of Finland, a DNA study of Finnish geneology, a historic treatise and moreover-a compelling, fascinating and totally impossible to put down where it a book (hint hint!) read! OK so the next step is YOU need to write a book! Just saying, no pressure (!!!) but you MUST!
    I have long thought blondes were under appreciated. The obvious Bo Derrick wow she’s hot thing, sure, but when was anything really objective non-sexual and just interesting written about the blonde gene? And if you do, people might think you were what? A racist? Of course not but they might!
    So this reads really interestingly to me, a fan of DNA, Viruses, etc. I love all that and have read tons of books on it, not sure I understand it at a deep level but I understand much of the basics and how you broke it down was easier still.
    So HOW CUTE WERE YOU?
    Aside the gorgeous photos I was really taken by the story of the DNA project and how Finland is a ‘testing ground’ – does that mean there are more of those diseases there? If this is true, how to explain why Finnish people live the longest of all the Europeans, and the obvious joke is because they are frozen or they are fae but seriously, if there is a large pool of inherited diseases because of the island theory (not enough gene pool for sufficient variety) then wouldn’t they weaken as they did among certain royal families? That’s the basis of the island theory isn’t it? I think Finland is bigger than the largest island that qualifies for the island theory (isle of white that kind of size etc) but the population size at certain points would have qualified yet instead of dying out or becoming two headed (:) the Finnish are very strong, they live as long as the Japanese and nobody can work out why. With the japanese I think it’s just the sheer hideously healthy nature of their food, the fact that they are tight family wise, have few predators, and hard lives, whereby they build up immunity, I suppose that could be it.
    One thing that struck me (actually loads did and I shall be thinking of this all day!) is that this is good they can work out what causes MS etc and ‘cure’ it (although I believe Big Pharma usually prefers to perpetuate but that’s another story!) but it’s fascinating to me that you see long life spans with such inbreeding historically.

    1. Yeah, inbreeding obviously makes us tougher!!! Finland did have the highest rate of heart disease years ago. They turned that around with a concerted public health program. I think they do a lot of that sort of stuff. They gotta look after the lab rats 🙂

  6. Maybe it is what you said when you pointed out that certain diseases are counteracted by some protective force, much like how Japanese people have historically had low blood sugar, low blood pressure and low pulses. This all leads to an increase in longevity, same with a group of Jewish people and some people in Portugal and Italy, little pockets of people who had children in smaller groups and they have this protective DNA. Wow. I doubt I have that as I have cancer in my family like most people but it would be amazing if that existed maybe they could harness what it was and help others. Either way the history of Finland fascinates me (how many times are you going to use that word Candy?) especially the idea that it was underwater and emerged like a phoenix, can you imagine? this must make it extremely rich in sediment and fertility. I know that unlike Iceland and Greenland it has abundant trees. I read a nordic book that talked about how they settled in Iceland, greenland and then ‘vinland’ (canada) to get supplies but that they had to import wood from other places like sweden. I want to know more about Finland. I am seriously thinking you should teach a class! And you MUST write a book. I wonder how many books have been written on these subjects, probably not enough. What a WONDERFUL post my friend. You really outdid yourself here. BRAVO! I loved this.

    1. Thanks Candice, I really enjoyed putting this one together. Finland is a very beautiful country. When hubby went there many long years ago to attend a funeral, he said it was hard not to stop at every corner to take photos. And he lived there till he was 16! My sister was so snap happy she literally has THOUSANDS of photos.

  7. There were a lot of interesting discoveries in this post, although I think the most surprising one for me personally was the fact that Finland is rising. If my calculations are correct (which they may well not be because I’m terrible at math), at it’s current rate, Finland will be at the same height above sea level as Mount Everest in a mere 1,041,176 years or thereabouts. I want to know what steps the Finnish government are taking to prepare for this outcome.

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