OCT 25, 2016 11:27 AM PDT

How does albinism work?

3 3 250

What, exactly, is albinism? Albinism is a collective term for many loosely related conditions. Everyone with albinism makes less than the normal amount of the pigment melanin.

We make melanin in specialized cells. Melanin colors our eyes, skin and hair. Since it can absorb every wavelength of light, melanin protects our skin from damage by the sun's ultraviolet rays. It also helps our eyes develop and handle visible light properly. In those with albinism, the amount of melanin made ranges from none to almost the normal amount. This can affect appearance -- without melanin, hair and skin are both white. However, a person with slightly reduced melanin may look just like his unaffected parents and siblings. Doctors often diagnose albinism using an eye exam. Since melanin plays a part in eye development, people with albinism universally have unusual eye anatomy and less-than-perfect vision.

Albinism isn't contagious, so you can't catch it. It's caused by a mutation in DNA, passed from parents to child, present at birth. In albinism, the mutation can happen in three areas: the recipe for melanin, the proteins that make melanin, the parts of the cell that package and distribute melanin.
Albinism has been documented around the globe, in many ethnic groups yet it is a rare condition. One in 20,000 people worldwide has a form of albinism. Certain forms are more common in certain populations. The most common form of albinism, OCA2, is found in one in 36,000 Caucasians in the United States.

Source: How Stuff Works
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 04, 2018
Videos
JUL 04, 2018
Jockey Will Donate Brain for CTE Research
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a condition where the brain, after repeated traumatic impacts, is injured. Brain function slows down and cognitio
JUL 24, 2018
Videos
JUL 24, 2018
Measles are on the Move
Measles is a highly contagious disease that used to be common in young children. Due to the development of vaccines, however, it’s been almost eradic
JUL 24, 2018
Technology
JUL 24, 2018
Can This Airplane Prevent Jet Lag?
People who travel long distances via airplane often experience a complication known as jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag disorder include fatigue, irritability,
JUL 30, 2018
Videos
JUL 30, 2018
Why Does Venus Spin In The Wrong Direction?
Scientists first discovered planet Venus as an inferno of acid rain. But, most uniquely, it was a planet that spins backward. In astronomy, backward spinni
AUG 10, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
AUG 10, 2018
The Chemistry in Yellowstone's Deadly Hot Springs
The Yellowstone National Park is famous for its geysers and the hydrothermal system otherwise known as the hot springs. But such spectacular landscape hide
AUG 14, 2018
Videos
AUG 14, 2018
Meditation and the Corporate World
During a busy work day it’s hard to find the time to shut it all down and take a break, but in some companies, meditation breaks are becoming a way f
Loading Comments...