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New genetic findings help explain different skin colors in humans

Alessia Ranciaro, a senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, collects a skin reflectance reading from a study participant from a Nilo-Saharan population. Photo: Tishkoff lab

Scientists have discovered new genetic variations in some African populations that influence skin color and suggest our earliest ancestors may have had a medium skin tone that later evolved to both darker and lighter tones seen in modern humans, per a five-year study published in Science Thursday.

Why this matters: Not only do the results alter the assumption that lighter skin evolved from the dark skin of ancestral humans, but they also help explain the vast range of skin color, identify possible patterns of human evolution and migration, and add to our understanding of human skin conditions like cancer and aging.