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What is albinism?

The condition in which there is no pigment, or color, in the skin, hair and eyes is known as albinism. It is found in many species of mammals, and in Man the estimated occurrence is 1 in 20,000 of the general population.

In total albinism the skin is white or may appear slightly pink owing to the presence of the blood vessels underneath.

The albino's hair is pure white and his eyes, although colorless, may appear to be pink. Very often eye abnormalities accompany the lack of pigmentation, particularly astigmatism and photophobia (sensitivity to light). Some albinos may also suffer from mental and physical retardation.

There are two related conditions called partial albinism and vitiligo. In the former white spotting of the skin and partial discoloration of the hair may occur; in the latter there is an absence of pigmentation in some areas of the body.

Albinism occurs when the pigment cells, called melanocytes, fail to produce pigment, or melanin. This is thought to be due to the absence of the enzyme tyrosinase, which is required for the synthesis of melanin, and this deficiency is hereditary.

Albinism occurs in mammals, birds and plants and, in other forms, in certain coldblooded animals such as frogs.

In plants, the condition is always fatal, as the plant is unable to derive sustenance without the pigment chlorophyll.

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