Human Skin Color Variation

Modern Human Diversity - Genetics

People today look remarkably diverse on the outside. But how much of this diversity is genetically encoded? How deep are these differences between human groups? First, compared with many other mammalian species, humans are genetically far less diverse – a counterintuitive finding, given our large population and worldwide distribution. For example, the subspecies of the chimpanzee that lives just in central Africa, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, has higher levels of diversity than do humans globally, and the genetic differentiation between the western (P. t. verus) and central (P. t. troglodytes) subspecies of chimpanzees is much greater than that between human populations.

Early studies of human diversity showed that most genetic diversity was found between individuals rather than between populations or continents and that variation in human diversity is best described by geographic gradients, or clines. A wide-ranging study published in 2004 found that 87.6% percent of the total modern human genetic diversity isaccounted for by the differences between individuals, and only 9.2% between continents. In general, 5%–15% of genetic variation occurs between large groups living on different continents, with the remaining majority of the variation occurring within such groups (Lewontin 1972; Jorde et al. 2000a; Hinds et al. 2005). These results show that when individuals are sampled from around the globe, the pattern seen is not a matter of discrete clusters – but rather gradients in genetic variation (gradual geographic variations in allele frequencies) that extend over the entire world. Therefore,there is no reason to assume that major genetic discontinuities exist between peoples on different continents or "races." The authors of the 2004 study say that they ‘see no reason to assume that "races" represent any units of relevance for understanding human genetic history. An exception may be genes where different selection regimes have acted in different geographical regions. However, even in those cases, the genetic discontinuities seen are generally not "racial" or continental in nature but depend on historical and cultural factors that are more local in nature’ (Serre and Pääbo 2004: 1683-1684).