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Boffins identify inherited 'werewolf' mutation

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Chinese boffins believe that they may have discovered the gene for "werewolf syndrome", and say that there are at least thirty people with the inherited disorder among the population of the People's Republic.

Science magazine reports that the correct medical name for werewolf syndrome is not lycanthropy but congenital generalized hypertrichosis terminalis (CGHT), and that geneticist Xue Zhang of the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing has "scoured his country for cases".

Apparently after more than four years of intensive hunting, Zhang and his team identified three families afflicted with the "rare but highly heritable disorder", and managed to persuade 16 sufferers to have their DNA scanned for genetic abnormalities.

According to Zhang & Co's paper, published yesterday in the American Journal of Human Genetics, all the CGHT sufferers had a "copy number variation" mutation in the same four genes on their seventeenth chromosome.

Zhang noted that the affected genes are near to one called SOX9, which is linked to hair growth. It could be that SOX9 in hair follicle stem cells is affected by the "werewolf syndrome" mutation to cause excessive hair growth - "but this is pure speculation", admits the geneticist.

This being the real world, "werewolf syndrome" has nothing to do with the full moon. CGHT sufferers do grow a thick hairy pelt, and some "also have a broad, flat nose, large ears, a large mouth, and thick lips, and, occasionally, an enlarged head and jaw", according to Science. But they don't suffer bestial urges any more than the rest of us, aren't immune to lead bullets etc.

Apparently CGHT victims in modern times have been more likely to find employment as "bearded ladies" at circuses than to be pursued by superstitious villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Read all about it layman-stylee from Science here, or for those up on their genetics (and with the right subscription) the scholarly paper is here. ®

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