The series “Imaginary Earths” speculates what the world will look like if one of the important aspects of life changes, whether it is related to the planet or to humanity itself. What would the Earth look like if it had a ring or if anyone could photosynthesize like a plant?
Albinism, derived from the Latin word “albus,” which means “white,” is a group of hereditary diseases that have spectacular results. Eye pigments are deficient and often completely absent. skin And hair.
In the United States, about 1 in 18,000 to 20,000 people have albinism. According to National Albinism and Depigmentation Tissue (NOAH).. On the other hand, in parts of Africa, such as in Zimbabwe, 1 in 1,000 people suffer from albinism. According to the United Nations..
What would the world look like if everyone on earth had albinism from prehistoric times to the present?
According to NOAH, the most common form of albinism in the United States is oculocutaneous albinism, which interferes with the production of the dark pigment melanin in both the eyes and skin. To date, there are seven known subtypes of this type of leukoderma, which doctors have named OCA1 through OCA7, NOAH said. Depending on the subtype, people may have white, blonde, or brown hair.
“I have OCA1, the most severe type of oculocutaneous skin, without pigment in my hair, skin, or eyes,” Kelsey Thompson, a rehabilitation counselor in the Chicago area, told Live Science. It was. She previously served for 10 years, including chairing the NOAH Board of Directors.
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A common myth is that people with albinism have red eye. Lighting conditions make the blood vessels behind the eyes visible and the eyes may appear red or purple, but most people with leukoderma have blue eyes and hazel or brown eyes. Some people are. Thompson’s eyes are light blue.
One of the important concerns for people with albinism is the delicacy of fair skin.Melanin, a pigment contained in hair and skin, protects the skin Ultraviolet rays People with light, and albinism need to be aware of sunburn and skin cancer.
“When I was young, I was a little cheeky about exposure to sunlight and got a terrible tan,” Thompson said. “Throughout my life, I have become accustomed to being more careful and careful about the sun by using sunscreen and looking for shade as often as possible.”
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So what happens if everyone has albinism? One scientist interviewed about the story thought that this factor alone was very unlikely to survive a long-term population of albinism.
“That’s a shame, but it’s not surprising,” Thompson said. “I think many people who have never lived with albinism see albinism like any other disability. This is a terrifying fate, and even everyday work is effortless. Is very terrible, but it’s not a death sentence. “
If everyone suffers from albinism, people around the world, like people in the desert, may adopt long clothing to protect their skin. Sahara, And a hat, scarf, or veil to protect the head and face. They may also rely on a protective coating on their skin to act as a sunscreen. Namibian Himba women regularly wear an orange or red paste called Ochize, which is made of milk fat and ocher, and is often scented with the aromatic resin of the Omusumba shrub. Himba women use otjize for aesthetic reasons, but it is believed that people with albinism can make similar pastes that act as sunscreens.
“We can imagine that culture is probably evolving to do more daily activities during off-peak hours of sunlight, more early in the morning and late in the afternoon,” Thompson said.
People with albinism may prefer to build their homes in a shaded environment and in sunny latitudes — think of Norway instead of Arizona. “I still enjoy going to the beach with my family,” Thompson said. However, “I think that if everyone has albinism, such as certain areas in the Middle East and the Southwestern United States, there are areas that are so sunny that people will not be able to live there. Still, I know that Albinist people live in it. I love Southern California and it. “
People with albinism have vision problems due to their internal structure Eye Since melanin develops in the uterus, it depends on melanin. “My best eyesight is 20/200, which is legally blind,” Thompson said. “I have full-color vision, but the details I can see are poor. Things aren’t blurry, but it seems to be the difference between high-definition television and 80’s television. People with albinism. Can also suffer from photophobia, or become more sensitive to glare from light. “
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These vision problems may lead those who expect the fictitious past pre-industrial society, which all suffered from albinism, to be very difficult to survive. “But there are many variations in what you can do with albinist vision,” Thompson said. “I have to use certain accommodations for my eyesight every day, but I can function quite independently. The advantage of leukoderma is that nothing is lost in my eyesight. This is all we have ever known. This is normal. “
For example, “I know people with albinism who are skilled hunters,” Thompson said. “I’ve been involved in albinist organizations all my life. Every time I think there’s a job or job that an albinist has no way to do it, surely someone is doing it.”
Therefore, if the entire population suffers from albinism, canes, visible animals, and perhaps Echo location Helps you navigate the world. Still, there are people with albinism who have sufficient functional vision to drive, Thompson said.
“My brother has the same type of leukoderma as I do, and when we sit in the ophthalmologist’s office, his eyesight is tested much the same,” Thompson said. .. “But he adapted to it. He was even a hockey goalkeeper. He didn’t watch the puck, but saw the player to know when the puck was coming towards him. “
People with impaired leukoderma may rely on magnifying glass and a handheld telescope to help them read “just by bringing the newspaper closer to their face,” Thompson said. “But in many cases we use these aids to adapt to the visible world. If the world evolved solely with people with albinism, I think all printed matter would be large printed matter. I will. “
Thompson believes that pre-industrial societies with albinism are more likely to rely on agriculture than hunting. Other possibilities include fishing and fishing with rods and nets, and activities that do not require sharp eyesight.
People with albinism are often stigmatized around the world because of their appearance. They are often the villains of the story — for example, the evil monk Cyrus of the “Da Vinci Code” (Double Day, 2003). In Tanzania, dozens of people with albinism have been killed in parts of their bodies. According to the New York Times And other sources.
“Some people with albinism grew up in a very supportive environment and didn’t face a lot of negativeness, while others were quite traumatized,” Thompson said. .. “My experience was in the middle of the road. It wasn’t that bad, but I experienced a lot of bullying when I was a kid. It gets a little annoying when I grow up. I have rude and invasive questions and people. Wants to touch my hair .. It’s really inappropriate behavior and people usually don’t dream of crossing their boundaries with strangers at all, but with eyes like albinism If there is a visible difference, it is attached to the territory. “
Of course, in a world where everyone suffers from albinism, there is almost certainly no stigma attached to it. Instead, albinism, along with the use of language and tools, may be seen as a feature that makes humanity stand out from other nature.
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“It would be interesting to think about how racial perceptions would change if everyone had albinism,” Thompson said. “My friend in India has the same type of albinism as me, and even if we come from two very different ethnic backgrounds, she and I are more like my brother and me Overall, she suggests that if everyone has albinism, “it may really change the appearance decisions we make about each other.”
Albinism can affect society in other ways. “When I’m talking to a group of people who all have albinism, we do something a little different than when we’re working in the normal world,” Thompson said. “When I meet someone you know, I introduce myself as if I’m on the phone —” Hey, Matt, that’s Kelsey. “-I know the other person doesn’t look very good, so I We may be standing a little closer to each other because we have poor eyesight. “
According to Thompson, such greetings and adjustments to the bubbles of people’s personal spaces may become a standard feature of society in the world where everyone suffers from albinism.
“There is a lot of nonverbal communication that we have to teach people with poor eyesight, such as making eye contact,” Thompson said. “Since I have nystagmus, my eyes shake a little and it’s hard to see people’s eyes, so I taught them how to make eye contact and thought about not stopping. That’s what it is. Assimilate into a visible world. I learned that. “
Therefore, if albinism was the default, the norm of making eye contact may no longer be the norm.
“This is a really rare mental experiment,” Thompson said. “Thinking about albinism as a norm is challenging and how it changes the way we think about the world and myself.”
Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @ cqchoi. Follow us on Twitter @ LiveScience and Facebook.