• David Almeida - Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
    "A transdisciplinary study of human evolution and diversity not only helps us understand how and why we became who we are, it is necessary for determining how we function day-to-day. My research examines the effects of biological and self-reported indicators of daily stress on health. How we experience and respond to daily life challenges is intricately tied to the evolution of human diversity."
    David Almeida - Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
  • Eric Plutzer - Professor of Political Science
    "For problems ranging from infectious disease to racial tensions in American cities, understanding that evolution matters but that genes are not deterministic and differ in their effects depending on social behavior and environment is a powerful way to better understand and solve many human challenges. Interdisciplinary research holds great promise for using our knowledge of evolution effectively to improve the human condition."
    Eric Plutzer - Professor of Political Science
  • Peter Hatemi - Professor of Political Science
    "If we are to make any headway in fighting diseases, reducing inequalities and the internecine fighting that appears to emerge so endemically when resources are scarce, values differ, and political approaches conflict, we must utilize multiple approaches, methods, be transdisciplinary and take into account the nature of human diversity, at every level, from our genes to our social identifications."
    Peter Hatemi - Professor of Political Science
  • Heather Toomey Zimmerman - Associate Professor of Education
    “Bringing together multiple disciplines to understand how people learn and reason about complex topics such as human evolution is important for today’s schools, museums, and other educational settings. The Center offers multiple perspectives of how research in this area is conducted, which will enhance young people’s views of how scientific knowledge is developed and of human diversity.”
    Heather Toomey Zimmerman - Associate Professor of Education
  • Nina Jablonski – CHED Director and Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology
    Human beings are products of rich and complex interactions between biology and culture that have developed over millions of years. Human evolutionary history informs our understanding of human behavior and culture, and vice versa. Examining only one side of this set of reciprocal interactions risks missing the plot entirely.
    Nina Jablonski – CHED Director and Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology
  • Mark Shriver - Professor of Biological Anthropology
    "Our Center is important for two reasons: 1) There are many interesting questions yet to answer about human evolution and physical, behavioral, and genetic variation, and 2) There seems to be a continuing divide between what anthropologists know and how they think about human evolution and diversity and how the general public and academic colleagues in other fields think about these topics."
    Mark Shriver - Professor of Biological Anthropology
You are here: Home / Educational Resources / The Biology of Skin Color

The Biology of Skin Color

A short film from The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive program.

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.                   

Our human ancestors in Africa likely had dark skin, which is produced by an abundance of the pigment eumelanin in skin cells. (See the related animation.) In the high ultraviolet (UV) environment of sub-Saharan (or equatorial) Africa, darker skin offers protection from the damaging effects of UV radiation. Dr. Jablonski explains that the variation in skin color that evolved since our human ancestors migrated out of Africa can be explained by the tradeoff between protection from UV and the need for some UV absorption for the production of vitamin D.

This film is appropriate for science classes from middle school to college. The content connects to key concepts in biology, human biogeography, genetics, and anatomy and physiology. Chemistry and biochemistry classes will appreciate the focus on the effects of UV radiation on DNA, folate degradation, and vitamin D synthesis.

Center for Human Evolution and Diversity

403C Carpenter Building, University Park, PA 16802

Phone_Icon.png (814) 867-0454