Thursday, June 22, 2023

History and discovery of melanin

Melanin is synthesized by cells in the skin and hair follicles called melanocytes. The word "Melanin" is derived from the ancient Greek word "Melanos" which means Black as the pigment color appears black usually.

Skin pigmentation has been a subject of interest since ancient times. There are references to diseases affecting skin color, such as vitiligo, dating back to the year 2200 BC.

For the following 4000 yr, the origins of human skin color remained an enigma that was to generate a multitude of misconceptions. Even after European physicians began to dissect and compare dark and light colored skin to reveal its underlying anatomy, the origins of skin and hair pigmentation were a matter of frequently erroneous speculation.

It was until the year 1819 that pigment cells, called chromatophores, were described in studies with the squid. A few years later, similar structures were recognized in human skin and eyes.

C. P. Robin in is credited with having been the first to use the term "melanin" in 1873. He actually described the pigment in chromatophores of animals as "pigment melanique".

Later, the specialized cells responsible for melanin synthesis in the skin, the melanocytes, were identified.

One of the earliest studies relating melanin production to cellular function, was that of Aeby in 1885, who suggested that wandering cells (Ieucocytes) phagocytosed erythrocytes and transmitted the resulting pigment to epidermal cells as nutritive material.

Once tyrosinase was identified to be the key enzyme in pigment formation, attention focused on elucidating the chemical structure of melanin.

Recent study by a multidisciplinary, international team of scientists at McGill University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Girona announced that they had succeeded in synthesizing a melanin model compound.

This breakthrough sheds new light on melanin’s structure and the unusual properties that enable it to protect organisms from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation.
History and discovery of melanin

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