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The Evolution of Human Skin Color
While the concept of evolution by natural selection is very simple, it is often misunderstood by students. This is partly due to preconceptions they have as well as a lack of understanding or emphasis on the idea that reproductive success (and not survival) is what matters to evolution. One way to ensure that students grasp this concept is to confront them with situations that require them to examine each factor’s effect on survival and reproduction. In this case study, the evolution of human skin color is used as a means of exploring the process of evolution by natural selection. Through the progressive disclosure of data, students learn about are the factors that may have exerted pressure on the evolution of this trait. Students evaluate hypotheses, predict their outcomes, evaluate them in light of new information, and reformulate them to take unexplained data into consideration. The case has been used in a first-year introductory biology course for non-majors.
|Keywords:||Skin pigmentation; skin color; natural selection; evolution; vitamin D; vitamin B folate; ultraviolet light; UV light|
|Topical Area:||Scientific method, Policy issues|
|Educational Level:||High school, Undergraduate lower division|
|Subject Headings:||Evolutionary Biology Biology (General) Science (General) Cell Biology|
|Copyright:||Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.|
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VideosThe following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
The Biology of Skin Color
In this short video, Penn State University anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski walks us through the evidence that the different shades of skin color among human populations arose as adaptations to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in different parts of the world. Running time: 18:58 min. Produced by: HHMI BioInteractive.