Lab News

Recent News

October 2020

Nina Jablonski to present at the virtual CARTA Symposium, Exploring the Human-Ape Paradox

People can register here for the public session, held on Saturday October 24, beginning at 12 pm (Pacific). Other sessions will be held for CARTA members on October 25, 30, and 31.

Dr. Jablonski will talk about Skin and its importance in human evolution.

Mostly naked, potentially sweaty, and variably colored skin is a hallmark of modern human beings. Skin is often overlooked in discussions of human evolution because it is rarely preserved in the fossil record. But because of its central role as an interface between the outside world and the body, it is essential that we study the evolution of skin and, specifically, how our skin differs from that of our ape relatives. We evolved mostly naked skin early in the evolution of the genus Homo for reasons of temperature regulation. Naked skin with lots of sweat glands makes it possible for people to stay cool while they are physically active in hot environments. The loss of hair meant that we lost important protection against the environment, especially strong sunlight. This is when our ancestors evolved permanently dark skin, rich in the natural sunscreen, eumelanin. Eumelanin absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet radiation that falls on the Earth's surface, and is widely used in nature because of its protective properties and its color. Our ancestors living in equatorial Africa had dark skin and little body hair. This was the universal human condition for a long time for all ancient people living in Africa, including the earliest members of our own species, Homo sapiens. When some people left equatorial Africa and moved to less intensely sunny places, like southern Africa, northern and eastern Asia, and Europe, changes occurred in their skin color. This is because people actually needed to have less eumelanin sunscreen in the skin in order to make it possible for some UV rays to penetrate the skin and make vitamin D. As people moved around early in prehistory, their skin color changed according to the intensity of the sunlight under which they lived. Many aspects of our skin are different from those in apes, and have come to be of great interest and social importance. We pay a lot of attention to skin, we show important emotions through our skin, and we spend a lot of time and effort caring for and decorating our skin. So, it's high time we celebrate its remarkable evolution!


Reconstruction by Mauricio Antón
Oldest Monkey Fossils Outside of Africa Found

Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunnan Province, China, are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.

"This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa," said Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State. "It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia."



September 2020

Nina Jablonski will present Skin We Are In... Evolution and Skin Color as part of the Penn State NoonTimeU webinar series on Thursday September 24, 2020 at 12pm

What brought about such a diversity of skin colors? How can knowledge about its natural history inform questions surrounding societal notions of skin color and our well-being? Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski explores the origins of differing skin colors, their importance to our health, and how this research fits into anthropological history. Her work has been featured in dozens of papers, two books, public education programming, NPR, PBS, late night talk shows, and a TED talk.

Click here to register


August 2020

Nina Jablonski and Barney Pityana write for The Conversation - Why does racism prevail?

All people belong to one biological species and there are no human “races”. So why does belief in race persist? It may be a scientific misconception, but it is real. It defines the lived experience of many people and determines how governments act and how people treat one another. How did race come to have this power and this durability?

A project was undertaken to address these very questions and to get at the heart of the “everydayness” of race in South Africa and elsewhere. Called the Effects of Race Project, it was started at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa in 2013 as part of a broader project at the institute called Being Human Today.


January 2020

Finding Your Roots selected for NSF STEM for All Multiplex event

The Finding Your Roots Genetics & Genealogy Curriculum, shown in action in the season 5 finale of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr., will be featured in the new National Science Foundation STEM for All Multiplex web site’s inaugural event with a live expert panel Monday Jan. 13th at 1:30ET. The online panel will discuss how to broaden participation in STEM through community engagement and will include “Finding Your Roots” camp instructor and evolutionary biologist C. Brandon Ogbunu.

The NSF STEM for All Multiplex is a new, interactive video platform which enables researchers, educators and parents access to federally funded, innovative programs aimed at improving STEM teaching and learning. Learn about exciting new approaches to STEM learning and join the conversation!