How much is Melanin Worth?

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How much is Melanin Worth?

An interesting thing to think about is how much is melanin worth. The color that we all have on our hair skin and eyes is melanin. It helps to protect our bodies from ultraviolet radiations and is also involved in vision and hearing. The quantity and phenotype of melanin are determined by genetics, but the exposure to sun rays also stimulates its biosynthesis.

How much is Melanin Worth

So what drives the value of this important biomolecule? To attempt to quantify melanin’s worth, we need to explore its biological functions, examine the melanin market and industry, and evaluate any ethical considerations around commodifying a natural substance produced in our bodies.

Melanin’s Functions and Value

Melanin is the product of melanocytes which are specialized cells. There are two types: eumelanin and pheomelan ; the first one is brown or black, while the second comes in a reddish-yellow color. People contain moderate amounts of melanin which define whether and how they are pigmented with skin, hair and eye color.

Melanin serves a protective function by absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation and also reducing damage from free radicals. By blocking UV rays, melanin helps prevent sunburn and skin cancer. It also influences development of the retina and the inner ear.

From an evolutionary perspective, melanin was advantageous for humans living near the equator. Greater melanin meant better UV protection, but also obstructed some vitamin D production. As humans migrated further from the tropics, lighter skin with less melanin helped maintain vitamin D levels.

So biologically, melanin provides essential functions – without it, effects of radiation would damage our health and senses. Our bodies regulate melanin carefully to balance protection with vitamin D needs.

Evaluating the literal value of melanin gets trickier. There are markets for melanin as a commodity – it’s used in laboratory research and some commercial products. Synthetic melanin sells for $344 per gram. That translates to $344,000 per kilogram – making it worth more than gold!

However, companies don’t disclose how much natural melanin from human sources may cost. There are ethical concerns over how it would be extracted and compensated.

The Melanin Market and Industry

While melanin has high commercial value, the market dealing in natural human melanin is small. Synthetic melanin dominates and costs far less to produce, about $10-15 per gram.

Natural melanin extraction methods patented in the 1990s prompted ethical debates over ownership and exploitation. But synthetic biology has enabled large scale production without human sources. Biosynthetic melanin uses microbes modified with genes similar to melanocytes.

This melanin has similar properties for products like sunscreen. Some cosmetic companies tout synthetic “bio-melanin” as identical to natural. The synthetic approach has enabled more melanoma research as well.

A limited market for extracted human melanin does exist. It’s used by microbiology labs as a biomarker standard. One biotech company offered $35 per gram in 2011 for Americans with dark black hair to provide samples by shaving their heads. This still represents a premium over synthetic.

Some niche industries use natural melanin. One company sells melanin “vitamins” while avoiding health claims. Natural melanin also commands higher prices in craft markets on sites like Etsy. But overall the commercial market favors synthetic.

How much is Melanin Worth Ethical Considerations

The idea of extracting and selling melanin from human sources raises ethical concerns about exploitation or appropriation. Yet voluntary programs like donating plasma are widely accepted. Hair and blood donation is generally considered altruistic.

Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson has argued markets devalue things with moral importance – do we want melanin valued just by its commercial price? Legal scholar Radhika Rao cautions commodifying body products risks limiting their availability for public benefit.

There are also racial justice implications. Could a market for human melanin favor particular groups, or further disadvantage minorities? These concerns merit examination before establishing any substantial trade in extracted natural melanin.

Because synthetic production can meet commercial needs, obtaining melanin from human sources remains a niche practice. Any large market would need to consider ethics carefully.

How much is Melanin Worth Summary
  • Melanin is a pigment that absorbs UV radiation and as such it helps in saving skin and eyes from its damage.
  • It is synthesized by melanocyte cells in two main varieties, such as black/brown eumelanin and red /yellow pheomelanin.
  • Biologically, melanin is invaluable for health, but quantifying its monetary value is complex
  • Synthetic melanin made biosynthetically costs $10-15 per gram to produce
  • Natural melanin has sold for up to $344,000 per kg but limited supply and ethics restrict the market
  • Harvesting and selling human melanin raises concerns about exploitation and racial justice
  • The market favors abundant, affordable synthetic melanin over niche uses of natural melanin
How Much is Melanin Worth Conclusion

Melanin clearly has high value biologically – it’s integral to our health and survival. Commercial markets also show synthetic melanin commanding prices higher than gold, per gram. However, ethical and racial justice concerns around extracting natural melanin from human sources greatly limit its marketability.

Synthetic biology has enabled melanin production that makes human extraction largely unnecessary. Some limited markets persist for natural melanin from willing donors. But its overall value remains philosophical and sentimental, rather than commercial.

While melanin has great worth to human life and society, attempts to quantify that value in dollars gives pause. As with many natural gifts intrinsic to our bodies, establishing an open market for melanin raises troubling questions. Its inherent value for our health far outweighs any potential commercial price.

How much is Melanin Worth FAQs

What is melanin?

The melanin is a pigment which provides colour to the skin, hair and eyes. It is made by cells termed as melanocytes and there are two pigments eumelimum which is brown/black, and pheomalenum which cause red or yellowish color. Melanin protects against UV damage and oxidative species.

Where does natural melanin come from?

Natural melanin is produced by melanocytes in human hair, skin and eyes. Companies can extract melanin from donated human hair and skin samples. Only small amounts can be harvested from each donor.

How is synthetic melanin produced?

Synthetic melanin is biosynthetic – produced through modified microbes with similar melanin-generating genes. This approach lets companies produce melanin on a large scale without human donors.

How much does synthetic melanin cost?

The price of biosynthetic melanin is $10-15 per gram. One biotech company reported synthetic melanin selling for $344 per gram in 2011. But prices have dropped as production increased.

What is melanin used for commercially?

Synthetic melanin is used in skin creams, sunscreens, laboratory reagents, pharmaceutical research and optics. One use is mimicking melanin’s radiation blocking properties. Limited uses exist for natural melanin from human sources.

What ethical concerns exist around melanin?

Paying human donors for melanin raises questions of exploitation, access, and racial justice. There is disagreement on whether natural melanin should be commodified and sold. Synthetic production helps avoid these ethical concerns.


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