The approach allows them to differentiate between hair colors that are similar, for example, between red and reddish blond, or between blond and dark blond hair.
"That we are now making it possible to predict different hair colors from DNA represents a major breakthrough because, so far, only red hair color, which is rare, could be estimated from DNA," said Prof. Manfred Kayser, Chair of the Department of Forensic Molecular Biology at Erasmus MC.
"We identified 13 'DNA markers' from 11 genes that are informative to predict a person's hair color," he added.
"This new development results in an important expansion of the future DNA toolkit used by forensic investigators to track down unknown offenders," said Prof. Ate Kloosterman of the Department of Human Biological Traces at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).
The current study was directed at the predictability of the color of the hair on the head. Further research would be necessary to predict the color of body hair.
The findings will be published today in the Springer journal Human Genetics.