Monday, March 2, 2009


Actually, it's an albino dolphin.

This weekend at the Voices conference, Nina Jablonski gave an amazing keynote address in which she focused on her research concerning the evolution of skin pigmentation. We now know that both light and dark skin pigmentation have evolved multiple times, most likely in response to two conflicting forces: UVA and UVB light. The relative intensities of UVA and UVB light differ based on global location, and so human skin has evolved to find a balance between being dark enough to protect against the harmful effects of UVA light (think skin cancer), but being light enough to allow a sufficient amount of UVB to promote the formation of folic acid (vitamin D). Deficiencies in folic acid are known to cause neural tube defects in developing fetuses and rickets, as well as a host of new malign effects that are only now being discovered, including immune system deficiencies in adults.

After seeing the article today on the albino dolphin and attending Dr. Jablonski's lecture, I am curious how studies of albinism might yield more insight into the evolution of skin pigmentation, because, to my understanding, it seems to afflict people, regardless of the concentration of melanin in their skin. Thoughts, comments, ideas?


GeorgeRN said...

Here's a cute little pick elephant.

mathbionerd said...

Aw, thanks for sharing. I know I've seen an albino crocodile, but I wonder if albinism extends to insects also. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't. What would be REALLy neat to see would be complete loss of pigmentation - like translucent fishes - in a mammal. Likely, though, that causes some sort of lethal phenotype.

Anonymous said...

Actually your in luck! There is a deep-sea fish usually found in tropical waters that has a translucent head. It is really quite extraordinary. Here's some video in case you haven't discovered it yourself yet

mathbionerd said...

whoa! That fish is super-cool!!

I wasn't aware of that specific fish, but do know that there are several translucent fishes. I was actually thinking it would be informative to learn what causes that translucent skin - and if it could/has occured in a mammal. Just my strange mind wandering