This is part eight of a ten part series on the top melanin myths. This myth is a multi part myth and it also shows the complexity involved in the subject of melanin especially when it comes to knowing the truth. Yes, everyone has melanin (except albinos.) No, Black people are not the only people who have melanin. No, melanin in people is not different from animal melanin.
The complication comes in the details. There are actually four types of melanin. Most often the three types mentioned are eumelanin, pheomelanin, allomelanin and neuromelanin. Neuromelanin is differentiated from eumelanin only by the rate of uptake, or reduction, of silver stain, also known as Argentaffin.
Pheomelanin is red and yellow. Eumelanin and neuromelanin are brown and black. People with high levels of pheomelanin in skin and hair have the highest risk for skin cancer. Allomelanin originates in plants such as mushrooms.
People are NOT earth’s only source of melanin. Melanin is the result of a chemical process that has a specific pathway. “Melanin” or eumelanin is actually a generic name for any chemical which is black. Melas is a greek word for black. Melaina was first used to describe the chemical as it appears in the ink of Sepia Officinalis or the common cuttlefish. In English the same word became melanin. It was later learned that the same chemical appears in numerous entities throughout nature.
The melanin in human skin is referred to is known as “dopa” melanin because of the chemical pathway to melanin from tyrosine. That means if we take the amino acid tyrosine and the enzyme tyrosinase, combine them together. Then wait. The next stage will result in a new chemical substance named Dopa. Dopa is a precursor to endorphins as well as adrenaline. Then wait again. The third stage will produce dopaquinone. Wait one more time. The final result is melanin.
Melanin is in bird feathers, animal fur, human skin, the ink of cephalopods, the layer beneath the white of your eye known as the choroid coat, it is in the chitin of insects. Melanin is even in fossils.