Activity for The Biology of Skin Color
This activity explores the evidence that differences in human skin color are adaptations to varying intensity of UV light, as discussed in the short film The Biology of Skin Color.
In this film, anthropologist Nina Jablonski walks through the evidence that the different shades of human skin color are evolutionary adaptations to the varying intensity of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in different parts of the world. Our modern human ancestors in Africa likely had dark skin, which protected them from the damaging effects of UV radiation in their environment. After some human populations migrated out of Africa, variations in skin color evolved due to a trade-off between protection from UV and the production of vitamin D.
The “Student Handout” probes students’ understanding of the key concepts addressed in the film. The “Educator Materials” document provides suggested pause points in the film with questions for students, background information, and detailed discussion points; a list of related resources and references; and an answer key for the “Student Handout.”
Student Learning Targets
- Explain why evolutionary selection pressure depends on environment.
- Discuss why evolution may involve trade-offs.
- Describe why human populations living for many generations in different parts of the world have different variations in certain traits.
adaptation, anthropology, folate, melanin, melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), pigmentation, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, vitamin D
Jablonski, Nina G. “The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color.” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 585–623. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.143955.
The resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. No rights are granted to use HHMI’s or BioInteractive’s names or logos independent from this Resource or in any derivative works.
Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
HS-LS3-1, HS-LS3-3, HS-LS4-1, HS-LS4-2,HS-LS4-4; SEP6
AP Biology (2019)
EVO-1.D, EVO-1.E, EVO-1.O, SYI-3.A, SYI-3.B ; SP1, SP4
IB Biology (2016)
1.2, 2.6, 3.4, 5.1, 10.2
AP Environmental Science (2020)
Topic(s): 2.6, 9.1, 4.7
Learning Objectives & Practices: ERT-2.H, STB-4.A, ENG-2.A, SP1, SP4, SP5
IB Environmental Systems and Societies (2017)
Common Core (2010)
Vision and Change (2009)
CC1, CC2; DP1