IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


8th April, 2024 Science and Technology


Source: Hindu

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  • The latest advances in genomics are improving our understanding of the biology of skin pigmentation.
  • In a paper published in the journal Nature Genetics in January 2024, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania used genome editing and chromosomal conformational capture to identify the regulators of a number of genes involved in skin pigmentation.


  • They identified the mechanisms by which mutations in the regulatory regions of four genes could affect pigmentation and its variability.
  • The research uncovered a previously unknown gene, CYB561A3, which plays a role in regulating skin pigmentation.
  • This expands our knowledge of the genetic mechanisms underlying pigmentation diversity.

Factors at work

  • Understanding the relationship between genetics and skin color involves exploring the intricate interplay of various genetic factors that contribute to the wide spectrum of skin tones observed in human populations.

Genetic Basis of Skin Color:

  • Melanin Production: The primary determinant of skin color is melanin, a pigment produced by melanocytes, specialized cells located in the skin's epidermis. Melanin comes in two main forms: eumelanin (brown/black) and pheomelanin (yellow/red).
  • Genetic Influence: Several genes regulate melanin production, distribution, and type. Variations in these genes contribute to differences in skin color among individuals and populations.
  • Key Genes: Some of the key genes associated with skin color variation include:
    • MC1R: Encodes the melanocortin 1 receptor, which regulates eumelanin production. Variations in this gene influence red hair and fair skin in individuals of European descent.
    • SLC24A5: Affects melanin synthesis and is associated with lighter skin pigmentation, particularly in European populations.
    • SLC45A2: Another gene influencing melanin production and associated with lighter skin in European and some West Asian populations.
    • TYR, TYRP1, OCA2: Genes involved in melanin synthesis, transport, and distribution, with variations contributing to differences in skin color among various ethnic groups.

Evolutionary History and Adaptation:

  • Human Migration: As humans migrated out of Africa to different regions of the world, they encountered diverse environmental conditions, including variations in ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. Dark-skinned humans evolved from apes approximately 1.2 million years ago, with skin color playing a pivotal role in migration out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.
  • Selective Pressures: Natural selection acted upon populations in response to these environmental factors, leading to adaptations such as populations at different latitudes have evolved changes in skin pigmentation to optimize protection against UV radiation while maintaining sufficient vitamin D synthesis.
  • Latitude Gradient: Skin color exhibits a latitudinal gradient, with darker skin prevalent near the equator where UV radiation is intense, and lighter skin more common at higher latitudes with lower UV exposure.

Environmental Influences:

  • UV Radiation: Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight plays a significant role in shaping skin color. UV radiation stimulates melanin production as a protective mechanism against DNA damage.
  • Vitamin D Synthesis: Lighter skin allows for more efficient synthesis of vitamin D in regions with lower UV radiation, contributing to the observed distribution of skin colors worldwide.

Complex Patterns and Exceptions:

  • Population Diversity: While general patterns exist, there is significant variation in skin color within and between populations due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and cultural factors.
  • Exceptions: Populations like the Inuit in Alaska may exhibit skin color variations that defy traditional latitudinal gradients, highlighting the complexity of genetic and environmental interactions.

Medical and Social Implications:

  • Medical Conditions: Genetic variations affecting skin pigmentation can predispose individuals to certain medical conditions, including albinism and vitiligo.
  • Social Significance: Historically, skin color has been associated with social hierarchies, racism, and discrimination. Understanding its genetic basis can help challenge harmful stereotypes and promote inclusivity.


Advances in genomics have provided valuable insights into the genetic basis of skin color diversity, shedding light on our shared human history and the importance of embracing diversity in all its forms.

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Q.  The genetics of skin color is a complex and multifaceted subject, influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and evolutionary factors.  Critically Analyse. (250 Words)