Here’s another reason to love the X-Men: real science. Listen carefully to the dialogue between Professor Charles Xavier and CIA agent Dr. Moira MacTaggart in the new movie, “X-Men: First Class,” and you’ll hear a reference to the MCR1 gene and auburn hair.
MacTaggart: “Do you have a minute?”
Professor X: “For a pretty little being with a mutated MCR1 gene, I have five… I say MCR1, you would say auburn hair.”
For Professor X, auburn or red hair is “a mutation, a very groovy mutation.”
For Vanderbilt molecular physiologist Roger Cone, it’s evidence of his discovery.
Cone, who chairs the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, discovered the MCR1 gene, now known as the human melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene, in 1992 while at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. He and his colleagues also discovered that mutations in this gene cause melanocytes (pigment cells) in the hair to switch on production of pigment with yellow-red hues. (Read Cone’s research on hair color mutation.)
Cone has continued his work. Last year, he and his colleagues at Vanderbilt discovered a new gene that enables bony fish like the flounder to change color dramatically to blend into their surroundings.