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Study Reveals Skin Pigmentation Heredity is Not Straight Forward

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Study Reveals Skin Pigmentation Heredity is Not Straight Forward


South African Individuals in a household that exemplify the substantial skin pigmentation variability in the Khomani and Nama populations

STONY BROOK, NY, December 12, 2017 – Many studies suggest that the genetics of skin pigmentation are simple, as a small number of known genes account for nearly 50 percent of pigment variation.  A new study published in Cell counters this scientific view and suggests that while skin pigmentation is nearly 100 percent heritable, it is not a straightforward trait in humans.

Co-author Brenna Henn, PhD, of Stony Brook University and colleagues at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Stanford University completed a large study showing the complex genetic architecture of skin pigmentation in two KhoeSan populations living in far southern Africa. The researchers discovered that the genetics of skin pigmentation in these populations become progressively complex as groups live closer to the equator, with an increasing number of genes involved (known and unknown), each making a smaller overall contribution to pigmentation. 

According to Henn, the findings highlight a previously unsuspected strong role for polygenecity – many genes playing a role in skin pigmentation – as well as the need for scientists to study diverse and understudied populations worldwide to get the full picture of the genetic architecture of human skin pigmentation.

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Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

Reporter Contact: Gregory Filiano

631 444-9343

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