What is albinism?

          Albinism has been derived from the Latin word ‘albus’ which means ‘white’. Albinism is an inherited disease caused by genetic changes. It can be passed on from one generation to another.

          Albinism is caused by the absence of yellow, red, brown or black pigments in the eyes, skin scales, feathers or hair. The natural pigments usually provide protective colouration and act as a screen against the light rays. Since albino animals lack them, they rarely survive in the wild.

          Albinos are found in plants, animals and human beings. In human beings, it is caused by the absence of melanin, the dark brown pigment normally present in the skin, hair and eyes. It varies from complete albinism to localized albinism or spotting.

          In the case of complete albinism, the person doesn’t have any pigment in any of their cells. They have milk-white skin and hair. Their eyes appear pink because of the colour of the blood vessels. Since the light-absorbing pigments are absent, an albino is extremely sensitive to bright light like that of the sun.

          In partial albinism, only some tissues and organs lack in pigment. Some animals are also partial albinos. One case of complete albinism is found in every 20,000 people.

          However some plants too, with white flowers, are partial albinos. A complete albino plant lacks even the green pigment – chlorophyll. As a result, it is unable to make its food by photosynthesis, and dies shortly after its food supply in the seed is exhausted.