Academy Scientist Nina Jablonski Awarded Fletcher Fellowship

Award Supports Jablonski's Research on the Evolution of Human Skin Color

SAN FRANCISCO (April 15, 2005) - Dr. Nina Jablonski, Curator and Irvine Chair of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences, has been awarded one of twelve Fletcher Fellowships for her research on the evolution of human skin color. "Research on the evolution of skin color in humans was avoided by scientists for many years," says Jablonski. "However, skin color is worthy of scientific investigation because it is the product of over five million years of evolution in the human lineage, it the most obvious characteristic in which people vary in their appearance, and it is of great social importance."

Jablonski's research in this field has demonstrated that variation in human skin coloration is the product of natural selection acting to regulate levels of melanin pigment in the skin relative to levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the environment. Melanin is a natural sunscreen that prevents UV rays from penetrating the skin. Too much UVR exposure causes the breakdown of certain essential biomolecules in the body, including DNA and vitamin B folate. However, insufficient UVR exposure prevents the production of vitamin D3 - an essential vitamin for reproduction. Because of these factors, darker skin tones evolved in areas of the world that have higher UVR levels, while light skin evolved in geographic zones with much lower UVR levels. The newly awarded Fletcher Fellowship will allow Jablonski to write a book about the biological and social aspects of human skin color and to develop a museum exhibit on the topic.

The Fletcher Fellowships were created in 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954. The Fellowships were established and endowed by Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., President and CEO of Fletcher Asset Management, with a gift of $50 million in order to benefit "institutions and individuals working to improve race relations and to close the class divide between African-Americans who have benefited from the civil rights movement and those who have not." The Fletcher Fellowships were patterned after the Guggenheim Fellowships - fifty awards will be given each year, with each carrying a cash prize of $50,000.

 

The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum. The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.

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