Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University are trying to determine why Europeans have a lighter skin than Africans, through studying the zebra fish. The team led by Mark Shriver studied genes of humans and zebra fish and found a small change in their key gene plays a major role in determining skin pigmentation.
The finding, published in the journal of Science, may not only help explain why people of European descent have a lighter skin than those from Africa, but also lead to the development of new ways to modify skin color without damaging it by tanning or using harsh chemical lighteners.
The lighter pigmentation is caused by a mutation in the SLC24A5 gene that cuts production of a key protein. Adding proteins from the zebra fish resulted in normal fish getting a darker color.
Similarly scientists studied human genes and found most of them carried the same version of the SLC24A5 gene, but people with a European ancestry carried a variant with just one mutation.
Further analyses showed that among people with mixed European and West African ancestry, those carrying the European form of the gene tended to have a lighter skin. It suggested that this single gene controls up to 38% of the color range in this mixed population.