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Skin Tone Genes

October 17, 2017

The genetic origins of dark and light skin.

Transcript

This is a Mursi woman of Nilo-Saharan ancestry. Nilo-Saharan pastoralist populations possess some of the darkest skin in Africa. Alessia Ranciaro

A Mursi woman of Nilo-Saharan ancestry. Nilo-Saharan pastoralist populations possess some of the darkest skin in Africa. (Alessia Ranciaro)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Skin deep genes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Both light and dark skin evolved early in human evolution, long before we migrated out of Africa. This according to a sweeping new genetics study led by an international team of researchers reporting in the journal Science.

SARAH TISHKOFF (University of Pennsylvania):

We’re interested in better understanding how humans have adapted to different— environments.

HIRSHON:

University of Pennsylvania geneticist Sarah Tishkoff says skin color in Africa still varies widely today, and the genes responsible affect skin tone in populations worldwide, including the dark skin found in south Asia and Australia.

TISHKOFF:

And what that means is that they are identical by descent from an ancestral African population; they did not arise independently in that region.

HIRSHON:

The work not only sheds light on human evolution and migration, but also has medical applications, especially in understanding skin cancer. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon