Was skin cancer a selective force for black pigmentation in early hominin evolution?

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Greaves, Mel
Year of Publication: 2014
Journal: Proc Biol Sci
Volume: 281
Issue: 1781
Pagination: 20132955
Date Published: 2014 Apr 22
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: Albinism, Animals, Biological Evolution, Hominidae, Melanins, Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1, Selection, Genetic, Skin Neoplasms, Skin Pigmentation

Melanin provides a crucial filter for solar UV radiation and its genetically determined variation influences both skin pigmentation and risk of cancer. Genetic evidence suggests that the acquisition of a highly stable melanocortin 1 receptor allele promoting black pigmentation arose around the time of savannah colonization by hominins at some 1-2 Ma. The adaptive significance of dark skin is generally believed to be protection from UV damage but the pathologies that might have had a deleterious impact on survival and/or reproductive fitness, though much debated, are uncertain. Here, I suggest that data on age-associated cancer incidence and lethality in albinos living at low latitudes in both Africa and Central America support the contention that skin cancer could have provided a potent selective force for the emergence of black skin in early hominins.

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2955
Alternate Journal: Proc. Biol. Sci.