Nina Jablonski at AMNH’s SciCafe & Independent Evolution of Blond Hair

Yesterday evening I attended the American Museum of Natural History’s SciCafe with guest speaker Nina Jablonski. She gave a talk about the evolution of skin. If you are a follower of this blog, you would know the genetics of skin color is one of my favorite topics. It has been a while since I have kept up with the research, but I do remember most of the major alleles. Suffice to say, it was a pleasure to be back in the midst of it all.

The talk was engaging. Many people got a chance to ask questions. This was an outstanding feature of this format in this sort of venue. Most lectures I’ve been to leave such pressed time for questions that only 2-3 get fired away. That often leaves patrons at a loss. But SciCafe did it well, offering a good hour or so of discussion.

Nina’s talk is a good segway into some news that I came across today. As we know blond hair is a phenotype and carried by at least one a recessive allele in European populations. But many Oceanic peoples also have blonde hair, specifically those from Melanesia — distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.

Melanesian Blond Hair
Melanesian Blond Hair

In a new Science paper, researchers identified a new missense mutation in TYRP1 in about half of the blondes in Micronesia which was not found in any of the 900 other individuals sampled from outside the South Pacific. This novel blond mutation in Solomon Islanders is thought to have popped up around 10,000 years ago. Furthermore, it appears to be the same one behind blondness in Fiji and other regions of the South Pacific.

Nina Jablonski eluded to the evolution of lighter phenotypes, like light skin occurring at least twice in the evolution of Homo sapiens and at least once in Homo neanderthalensis. But light skin need not be light hair, which is often a misconception. Research like this shows us that in dark-skinned people, one base pair mismatch leads to light hair.

Kenny, E., Timpson, N., Sikora, M., Yee, M., Moreno-Estrada, A., Eng, C., Huntsman, S., Burchard, E., Stoneking, M., Bustamante, C., & Myles, S. (2012). Melanesian Blond Hair Is Caused by an Amino Acid Change in TYRP1 Science, 336 (6081), 554-554 DOI: 10.1126/science.1217849

4 thoughts on “Nina Jablonski at AMNH’s SciCafe & Independent Evolution of Blond Hair

  1. The blonde person in your picture is similar in appearance to the Australian Aboriginals, who have a particular combination of dark skin and almost white hair.
    I sometimes wonder if Humankind had an original gene-pool of ‘variety’ and from that a ‘novelty’ would arise, from which 1. a ‘trend’ would establish itself 2. it would mutate 3. it would recede back into the gene pool or 4. remain isolated in one particular area.
    Defining races is dangerous, I feel, because it alienates one from the other.
    Diversity on the other hand is creative.

  2. Kambiz, any possible link of incipient blonde hair gene to Denisovan genes?

    1. “Denisova hominins (/dɪ̈ˈniːsəvə/), or Denisovans, are Paleolithic-Era members of the genus Homo that may belong to a previously unknown species of human. In March 2010, scientists announced the discovery of a finger bone fragment of a juvenile female that lived about 41,000 years ago, found in Denisova Cave in Altai Krai, Russia, a region also inhabited at about the same time by Neanderthals and perhaps modern humans.[1][2] A tooth and toe bone belonging to different members of the same population have since been found.

      Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the finger bone showed it to be genetically distinct from the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans[3]. Subsequent study of the nuclear genome from this specimen suggests that this group shares a common origin with Neanderthals, that they ranged from Siberia to Southeast Asia, and that they lived among and interbred with the ancestors of some present-day modern humans, with up to 6% of the DNA of Melanesians and Australian Aborigines deriving from Denisovans” (Wiki)

      ..just filling in the info gap for others

  3. James Churchward and Arysio Santos are just two independent researchers who were quite convinced that the mysterious lost civilisations of Lemuria and Atlantis were situated in the Pacific Ocean encompassing all the islands that exist today, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia and Indonesia, and gave rise to the ‘Aryan Race’, which most people suggest is connected to the ‘White Race’, which migrated N across China into Siberia and W into India, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and N Europe.

    After the Cataclysmic Deluge, most survivors must have found themselves displaced and surviving in new lands, suggesting the possible reason for a genetic link between such distant regions. Afghans, Irish and Vikings share the distinctive red hair and blue or green eyes, for example.

    A study of ante-diluvian sea-levels exposes many land-bridges between distant coast-lines of today, one in particular joining Melanesia with Australia.

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