Research Article

Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, eaan8433
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8433

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  • Skin pigmentation and camouflage
    • Marc Verhaegen, Medical Doctor, Study Center for Anthropology, B-2580 Belgium.

    Thanks for this very informative article. The authors say that light skin helps produce vitamin D at higher latitudes, and dark skin protects against UV in equatorial zones. This is undeniably so, but these effects might be secondary. Comparative data suggest that the first function of skin color - in humans and many other animals - might be Raymond Cowles' camouflage theory.
    Melanin has different functions, e.g. anti-bacterial and anti-fungus, but also camouflage. Polar bears look white (white hairs, but black skin), whereas grizzlies (grizzlies and polar bears can have fertile offspring) are grey. Tropical bears are black (or black-white, more or less like silverback gorillas and giant ant-eaters), but in temperate regions, bears are brown.
    Human skin color distribution worldwide is not unlike that of bears. In dense tropical vegetation, humans are often very black. In more open (sub)tropical regions they are much lighter-skinned: KhoiSan, Australian aboriginals, Berbers etc. On the other hand, Scandinavians etc. are light-coloured, but tan in Summer (which creates camouflaging counter-shade). Brits (who probably lived in sunlit forests once) are often red-haired and freckled.
    Conclusion:
    The primary and most vital function of skin colour in most animals might be camouflage against predators, prey or rivals, and the vitamin D, folic acid, anti-bacterial, UV protective and other effects of melanin and dark skin might be secondary.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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