Selection and not genetic drift may have been more responsible for the emergence of fair skin, hair and eyes in Europe, a new study has found.
Scientists have long debated the reasons for the change in darker skin colour as humans moved from Africa to Europe.
Dr Sandra Wilde and colleagues used DNA from both ancient and modern Europeans and computer simulations to find a strong selection for light skin on human pigmentation genes over the past 5,000 years.
The scientists say it’s a combination of selective pressures associated with living in northern latitudes.
This includes the adoption of an agricultural diet from a hunting diet which contained high vitamin D. The lighter skin would have made it easier to absorb vitamin D.
And mating also played a role with lighter skin, hair and eyes seen as more desirable.
“There is some evidence that lighter iris colours, because of their recessive mode of inheritance, may be preferred by males in assortative mating regimes to improve paternity confidence,” the scientists write.
However, they say, other factors cannot be discounted.
The research is published in a paper, ‘Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 y,’ in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
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