-An undergraduate from the Netherlands
November 12, 2014
When many people think “albino,” they think of an animal or a person with perfectly white skin and hair and bright red eyes*. In this form of albinism, the pigments that lead to darker hair, eyes, and skin do not get made. No pigment means no pigmentation, which means no color.
If this were the only form of albinism out there, then what you describe would be very weird. But it turns out there are many other kinds, some of which can make some pigment.
Some of these genes work one after the other to build melanin up from the amino acid tyrosine. Still other genes work to create the right environment in the melanosome, the special place inside cells where melanin is made.
You can think of making melanin like making something in a factory. Say, donuts.
Some of the genes are like the assembly line; cutting, cooking, and glazing the donuts. Others provide the lights, air conditioning, power, and so on, so the conditions are right for the assembly line to work well and make lots of donuts.
Albinism is Rare
People from all over the world can have albinism. Overall, about 1 in 17,000 people have one type or another.
About 1 in 40,000 people have OCA1. However, people of African descent are less likely to have this form.
OCA2 is the most common type of albinism. About 1 in 36,000 Americans have OCA2. It’s much more prevalent in African Americans: about 1 in 10,000. In some parts of Africa it can be as high as 1 in 3,900 people.
The Person You Describe Probably has OCA2