Why Is Skin Color Different? Huge Genetic Study Reveals Prevailing Theory of Pigmentation is Wrong

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-12-04 04:20Z by Steven

Why Is Skin Color Different? Huge Genetic Study Reveals Prevailing Theory of Pigmentation is Wrong


Kastalia Medrano, Staff Writer

These are South African individuals in a household that exemplify the substantial skin pigmentation variability in the Khomani and Nama populations.
Brenna Henn

Scientists used to think that the same small handful of genes accounted for about half of all pigment variation in human skin. A new study shows the genetic picture behind skin color is far more complex.

Research supporting the prior, simpler conclusion was skewed by Eurocentrism. Because it focused almost exclusively on Northern Eurasian populations from higher latitudes, the data missed a huge swath of the globe. Now, scientists have factored in people of color living in lower latitudes—and found that the prevailing theory is wrong.

Scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Stanford University, and Stony Brook University worked with groups of indigenous southern African peoples called the KhoeSan, notable to some for their use of “click” language. They interviewed them, measured their respective heights and weights, and used a tool called a reflectometer to measure their skin pigmentation.

After seven years of research, and data gathered from about 400 individuals, the researchers realized that the closer a population lives to the equator, the greater the number of genes play a part in determining skin pigmentation. A paper describing the research was published November 30 in the scientific journal Cell.

“Previous work has shown the biomedical consequences of ethnically biased studies. Over the past 10 years, approximately 80 percent of genetic association studies were performed in European-descent groups,” Alicia Martin, a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Broad Institute member Mark Daly, told Newsweek by email. “What we find here is that the biology of pigmentation or ‘architecture’ can be very different in Africans.” Martin says the findings emphasize the need to fund more genetic work in diverse populations…

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