“The discovery of a gene that regulates skin pigmentation has important health implications.” said Nancy Mangini, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University School of Medicine – Northwest.
Mangini was referring to the lead article in today’s (Friday, Dec. 16) issue
of the prestigious weekly scientific journal, Science. The cover photo for
this issue shows a fishbowl with two different colored zebrafish held up by
hands of a light-skinned person and a dark-skinned person. The caption says:
Skin color is only gene deep.
Mangini was a primary contributor to a project that involved an international collaboration of 25 scientists who discovered that a human gene for a protein that regulates calcium could restore color to a mutant, light-colored fish (the golden Zebrafish) lacking the gene.
“This same gene was found to be directly related to variations in human skin color. In evolutionary terms, this means that this gene is very important to the life of cells and was conserved from the time that fish evolved all the way to humans,” said
The lead author of the study, Dr. Keith Cheng, from Penn State University College of Medicine, also found meaning beyond the control of skin color. Cheng feels that the subject of medically important differences between genes among individuals is of paramount importance and a reason for studies like this.
Mangini explained, “This gene controls calcium and we discovered that a minor
change causes differences in pigmentation. Even this gene, in cells other than
pigment cells, might cause differences in the way cells react to medicines.
So skin color might be an indicator of the potential for other health problems
that are significant. The more we know about how genes differ between individuals
and among populations, the better we will be able to tailor medicines to treat
specific medical conditions to which they are more prone.”
Mangini, associate professor of anatomy & cell biology, does research on the
importance of calcium transport in the eye and teaches pharmacology at the
Northwest Indiana branch of the medical school on the IUN campus in Gary.