The first large-scale study of the genetics of skin color in Africans was published in the journal Science on Oct. 12 — identifying new regions of the human genome that are associated with skin color variation in African populations and throughout the world.
According to the study, there are eight genetic variants in humans that can influence skin pigmentation to make it lighter or darker. The variants, which date back over 300,000 years, have been identified not only in Africa, but throughout the world.
Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who spearheaded the study, has been researching indigenous African populations since the early 2000s. She said she was interested in pursuing this research because many people aren’t aware of the diversity in skin pigmentation in Africa alone.
“This was the first study of indigenous African populations and on what the cause is of differences in skin color in Africa,” Tishkoff said. “We weren’t necessarily expecting that we were going to find totally new genes — that was a big surprise.”
Nicholas Crawford, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the new study, also expressed surprise at the findings.