Mental Floss

What Is Albinism, and Why Does It Happen?

Andrew LaSane
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Albinism is most commonly (and understandably) known for its visual traits, but the most interesting facets of the condition are the ones that can't be seen. The video below from Discovery News explains what's happening at the genetic level, breaking things down in a way that's quick and fairly easy to comprehend—even if it's been a while since you aced biology.

Julia Wilde explains that people with the condition have white skin and hair (albino comes from the Latin albus, meaning white), and pale blue or pink eyes because their bodies aren't able to make pigment. "You get your skin, eye, and hair color from melanin, which is distributed through a number of genes," Wilde says, "but if one of these genes carry a certain mutation, the amount of melanin that is distributed through your body changes." Wilde goes on to explain that one variation of the disorder called oculocutaneous albinism, which affects eyes, skin, and hair, has four different types with varying degrees of melanin impact. It affects one in every 20,000 people.

Discovery News also clears up common myths about the disorder. "While it is true that people with albinism can't tan and many do get very serious sunburns, the truth is that the chances of getting skin cancer is just as high as with anyone else who spends a lot of time in the Sun." Check out the full video below to learn more.

[h/t Discovery News]