Pigmentation is a readily scorable and quantitative human phenotype, making it an excellent model for studying multifactorial traits and diseases. Convergent human evolution from the ancestral state, darker skin, towards lighter skin colors involved divergent genetic mechanisms in people of European vs. East Asian ancestry. It is striking that the European mechanisms result in a 10-20-fold increase in skin cancer susceptibility while the East Asian mechanisms do not. Towards the mapping of genes that contribute to East Asian pigmentation there is need for one or more populations that are admixed for ancestral and East Asian ancestry, but with minimal European contribution. This requirement is fulfilled by the Senoi, one of three indigenous tribes of Peninsular Malaysia collectively known as the Orang Asli. The Senoi are thought to be an admixture of the Negrito, an ancestral dark-skinned population representing the second of three Orang Asli tribes, and regional Mongoloid populations of Indo-China such as the Proto-Malay, the third Orang Asli tribe. We have calculated skin reflectance-based melanin indices in 492 Orang Asli, which ranged from 28 (lightest) to 75 (darkest); both extremes were represented in the Senoi. Population averages were 56 for Negrito, 42 for Proto-Malay, and 46 for Senoi. The derived allele frequencies for SLC24A5 and SLC45A2 in the Senoi were 0.04 and 0.02, respectively, consistent with greater South Asian than European admixture. Females and individuals with the A111T mutation had significantly lighter skin (p = 0.001 and 0.0039, respectively). Individuals with these derived alleles were found across the spectrum of skin color, indicating an overriding effect of strong skin lightening alleles of East Asian origin. These results suggest that the Senoi are suitable for mapping East Asian skin color genes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences