Monday, April 26, 2010

Diet, disease, and pigment variation in humans

Some interesting hypotheses about the relationships between skin pigmentation, vitamin D, and immune response in Europe.

Diet, disease and pigment variation in humans.
Med Hypotheses. 2010 Apr 19. [Epub ahead of print]
Abstract: There are several hypotheses which explain the de-pigmentation of humans. The most prominent environmental explanation is that reduced endogenous vitamin D production due to diminished radiation at higher latitudes had a deleterious impact on fitness. This drove de-pigmentation as an adaptive response. A model of natural selection explains the high correlations found between low vitamin D levels and ill health, as vitamin D's role in immune response has clear evolutionary implications. But recent genomic techniques have highlighted the likelihood that extreme de-pigmentation in Eurasia is a feature of the last 10,000years, not the Upper Pleistocene, when modern humans first settled northern Eurasia. Additionally the data imply two independent selection events in eastern and western Eurasia. Therefore new parameters must be added to the model of natural selection so as to explain the relatively recent and parallel adaptive responses. I propose a model of gene-culture co-evolution whereby the spread of agriculture both reduced dietary vitamin D sources and led to more powerful selection on immune response because of the rise of infectious diseases with greater population densities. This model explains the persistence of relatively dark-skinned peoples at relatively high latitudes and the existence of relatively light-skinned populations at low latitudes. It also reinforces the importance of vitamin D as a micronutrient because of the evidence of extremely powerful fitness implications in the recent human past of pigmentation. Copyright © 2010. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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