Scientists said yesterday that they have discovered a tiny genetic mutation that largely explains the first appearance of white skin in humans tens of thousands of years ago, a finding that helps solve one of biology's most enduring mysteries and illuminates one of humanity's greatest sources of strife.This news will certainly infuriate racist anti-intellectuals on the right but fuck ‘em, they wouldn’t know, or even care about, a fact if it bit them in their belief system. In fact, its fun to think about taunting them with the “mutant” notion. Scientifically there is no negative connotation to the term but I’m sure those who feel racial superiority in their whiteness would not take kindly to being called a mutant.
The work suggests that the skin-whitening mutation occurred by chance in a single individual after the first human exodus from Africa, when all people were brown-skinned. That person's offspring apparently thrived as humans moved northward into what is now Europe, helping to give rise to the lightest of the world's races.
Although precise dating is impossible, several scientists speculated on the basis of its spread and variation that the mutation arose between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. That would be consistent with research showing that a wave of ancestral humans migrated northward and eastward out of Africa about 50,000 years ago.
Unlike most mutations, this one quickly overwhelmed its ancestral version, at least in Europe, suggesting it had a real benefit. Many scientists suspect that benefit has to do with vitamin D, made in the body with the help of sunlight and critical to proper bone development.
Sun intensity is great enough in equatorial regions that the vitamin can still be made in dark-skinned people despite the ultraviolet shielding effects of melanin. In the north, where sunlight is less intense and cold weather demands that more clothing be worn, melanin's ultraviolet shielding became a liability, the thinking goes.
Today that solar requirement is largely irrelevant because many foods are supplemented with vitamin D.
Friday, December 30, 2005
White People Are Mutants
I missed this when it first came out but thanks to the blogoshere, and The HuffPo in particular, I now have been informed.