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In 1735, the great Swedish classifier, Carl von Linné, used skin color to differentiate Europaeus albescens, Ameri-canus rubescens, Asiaticus fuscus, and Africanus nigrescens. It is color, more than another physical feature, that has had great influence on the social and economic position of man. And it is this color that shields us from the life-long damage to our skin from invisible UV rays streaming down the 93 million mile trip from the sun.
The long trail of evolution is initially reconstructed by the authors of this excellent, heavily referenced monograph. They recount the loss of the protective coat of hair followed by the appearance of melanins, those complex polymeric chains synthesized from only two amino acids. The black eumelanin comes from tyrosine; the red-yellow phaeomelanin from tyrosine and cysteine. The story is well told of the evolutionary advantage of black skin in preventing sun-scalded skin in the high-intensity UV
Shelley WB. Sun and Skin: An Individual Risk. Arch Dermatol. 1995;131(5):625–626. doi:10.1001/archderm.1995.01690170129032
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