“Variations in Human Skin Color” is one of a group of freely available interactive learning resources that are accessed via “In & Beyond Africa” (IABA). This resource can be found on the website of Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code (https://unlockinglifescode.org/iaba/#skin-color).
Launch this learning resource by clicking on the navigational icon at the upper right of the IABA screen, which opens a pull-down menu. After choosing “What Controls Variations in Human Skin Color?” click “Begin” to reveal the first screen of this activity. An information box summarizes scientists’ current knowledge about human skin color: the central role of a pigment called melanin, the combined effect of many genes, the way darker skin protects against skin cancer while lighter skin permits more vitamin D synthesis.
The next screen shows an avatar of a young person’s face accompanied by sliding “bars” that allow students to increase or decrease the effects of three genes known to influence skin color, as well as an “unknown” gene or genes (perhaps more than 120!). Sliders on the bars increase/decrease each gene’s activity and produce striking changes in hair, skin, and eye color. Turning off one gene (TYR) even causes albinism. To learn more about each gene, click the “?” circle nearby. A final screen explains that skin color has helped humans adapt to our planet’s diverse climates.
The information-packed first screen is a good take-off point for class discussions beyond skin color: e.g., skin structure, vitamins, causes and prevention of skin cancer, or human adaptation and development. The interactive on screen two is not only fun to manipulate, but shows clearly how the activity of a single gene (or 2 or 3), plus a good dose of UV light, can produce very different skin colors. This resource demonstrates how skin color changes in the context of human migrations and adaptation to varied environments.
About the Creators:
The educational concept and content of “In and Beyond Africa,” including its diverse learning activities, were developed by a group of NHGRI staff consisting of educators, researchers, writers, and illustrators. The interactive website was designed and implemented by d’Vinci Interactive.