Skin Pigmentation Studies Shed Light On Evolution Of Race
A special series of papers in the peer-reviewed journal Zebrafish provides a comprehensive look at future directions of research on pigment biology. Model organisms such as zebrafish advance the scientific understanding of the genetic basis of human skin color and race.
"With the election of the first African-American president of the United States, our society has taken a landmark step towards deracializing human conduct," says Stephen C. Ekker, PhD, Rochester, MN, Editor-in-Chief of Zebrafish. "As scientists, we contribute to this work by sharing genetic insights to demystify skin color and race."
Guest Editors Keith C. Cheng, MD, PhD, Department of Pathology, Penn State College of Medicine, and David M. Parichy, PhD, Department of Biology, University of Washington, have compiled an intriguing collection of original scientific papers and historical perspectives on the study of pigmentation in zebrafish, a vertebrate that shares genetic mechanisms of skin color with humans. The Special Focus on Pigmentation Biology includes a Roundtable Discussion entitled, "Research Implications of Pigment Biology in Zebrafish," by Cheng, Parichy, and Ekker.
Keith Cheng explains that zebrafish "have outstanding potential as an educational tool--to 'demystify' race, to increase public understanding of the role of model systems and evolution in science, and to enhance appreciation of both genetic and environmental factors that impact human health and society." Fish research has already played an important part in the discovery of genetic changes that make the largest known contribution to the lighter skin color of Europeans. Variation--or genetic polymorphisms--in these DNA sequences are key determinants of pigmentation among different human populations.
The special issue of Zebrafish also includes an essay by Steven A. Farber that provides historical perspective on the first application of genetics to manage human society--a scientific area that lead to the eugenics movement. A series of papers on pigmentation biology features a report on the study of skin cancer in fish by Leonard Zon and colleagues, and a paper by Keith Hultzman, Alexander Scott, and Stephen Johnson that explores the science behind regeneration and stem cell biology using pigment patterning as a major readout of organogenesis. Additional papers focus on natural variation of male ornamental traits of the guppy, the link between pigment and fish behavior, and pigment dilution mutants in fish models connected to lysosome-related organelles and vesicular traffic genes.