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Skin color: Handy tool for teaching evolution
Date:2/20/2011

f moths or, the most commonly used evolutionary example, bacterial colonies, according to Jablonski. Adaptation to the environment through evolutionary change becomes even more interesting when looking at the mechanism of tanning.

"In the middle latitudes tanning evolved multiple times as a mechanism to partly protect humans from harmful effect of the sun," Jablonski told attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science today (Feb. 20) in Washington, D.C.

Tanning evolved for humans so that when ultraviolet B radiation increases in early spring, the skin gradually darkens. As the sun becomes stronger, the tan deepens. During the winter, as ultraviolet B wanes, so does the tan, allowing appropriate protection against folate destruction but sufficient vitamin D production. Tanning evolved in North Africa, South America, the Mediterranean and most of China.

Natural variation in skin color due to natural selection can be seen in nearly every classroom in the U.S. because humans now move around the globe far faster than evolution can adjust for the sun. The idea that variation in skin color is due to where someone's ancestors originated and how strong the sun was in those locations is inherently interesting, Jablonski noted.

"People are really socially aware of skin color, intensely self-conscious about it," she said. "The nice thing about skin color is that we can teach the principles of evolution using an example on our own bodies and relieve a lot of social stress about personal skin color at the same time."

Jablonski noted that the ability to tan developed in a wide variety of peoples and while the outcome, tanablity, is the same, the underlying genetic mechanisms are not necessarily identical. She also noted that depigmentated skin also developed at least three times through different genetic mechanisms. Students who never tan, will also understand why they do not and that they never will.


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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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