Gene That Raises Risk of Skin Cancer, Sunburn Identified : Science File / An exploration of issues and trends affecting science, medicine and the environment

<i> From Times staff writers</i>

British researchers seeking a gene for red hair have instead identified a gene that increases the risk of sunburn and skin cancer in light-skinned people. The team reported in Nature Genetics that a gene on chromosome 16 called MC1R regulates production of melanin pigment and thus plays a key role in tanning and sunburn.

Human skin produces two types of melanin: black eumelanin, which protects against sunlight, and red phaeomelanin, which contributes to skin damage and cancer. Individuals with a defect in MC1R do not produce enough eumelanin and are thus more susceptible to sunburn.