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Evolution of Skin Pigmentation Differences in Humans

  1. Heather L Norton

Published Online: 15 JUL 2008

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021001



How to Cite

Norton, H. L. 2008. Evolution of Skin Pigmentation Differences in Humans. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2008

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (16 JUN 2014)


The distribution of human skin pigmentation variation is highly correlated with the intensity of ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Several hypotheses propose that this strong relationship between skin colour and UVR is best explained by natural selection. The identification of a large number of genes involved in the pigmentary system now enables researchers to test these hypotheses within an evolutionary genetics framework. Genetic data indicate that the light pigmentation that characterizes populations in Europe and East Asia has evolved independently through positive selection, and that functional variation in pigmentation genes in high UVR populations has likely been subject to purifying selection.


  • skin pigmentation;
  • natural selection;
  • human evolution