In 1920, An English Biochemist Details How To Extract Melanin From Black People

William John Young, an English Biochemist, wrote a report in 1920 titled “The Extraction Of Melanin From The Skin With Dilute Alkali” where he details step-by-step how to extract melanin from black people.

If this knowledge was available and put into use in the 1920’s, how much more sophisticated is the melanin extraction process now?

People who continuously downplay the magnificence of melanin seem to overlook the incredible efforts of European scientists to harvest, study, and utilize melanin.

Here is an excerpt from William John Young’s report:

“It was found that if the skin were soaked in boiling water, the outer layer, which contained practically all of the pigment, could be readily removed by scraping. This layer (200g.) was washed with alcohol and ether to remove grease, and was boiled with 100c. of N/20 sodium hydroxide for one hour under a reflux condenser. It was allowed to settle and the dark liquid decanted and filtered.

The process was repeated with successive portions of fresh alkali until, after four extractions, there was only a very small residue. To the four clear filtrates after cooling, hydrochloric acid was added to about N/3, whereby the melanin was thrown down as a dark-brown precipitate.

It was allowed to settle, the liquid siphoned off and the precipitate repeatedly washed by decantation with N/3 hydrochloric acid. The clear washings were siphoned off as much as possible and water and hydrochloric acid added to make the liquid to 500c. of N/20 hydrochloric acid.

The mixture was then heated to boiling. The precipitates from the first two extracts completely dissolved to a deep brown solution; that from the third extract was only partially soluble; whilst the fourth precipitate did not appear to dissolve at all.

The solutions were filtered through a fine filter paper (Schleicher and Schuil’s Blue Band), and the first three solutions mixed. In this way the pigment was separated into two fractions, one soluble, the other insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid. 

The solution in hydrochloric acid was cooled, and concentrated acid added until the mixture was N/3. The melanin was thereby precipitated and was allowed to settle,the liquid siphoned off, and the residue washed several times by decantation with hydrochloric acid of the same strength.

The process of dissolving in N/20 acid, filtering and reprecipitating was repeated once, the pigment was then again dissolved in the dilute hydrochloric acid, and the solution dialysed until the liquid no longer gave a precipitate with silver nitrate.

This treatment precipitated the pigment, which was then filtered of on a hardened paper, washed with distilled water, then with alcohol, finally with ether and dried. The paper was folded and extracted in a Soxhlet apparatus, successively with carbon disulphide, light petroleum and ether, and was dried at 100 [degrees].

It was thus obtained as a black powder, and will be referred to as acid-soluble melanin. Before being dried the powder was readily soluble in dilute (N/20) sodium hydroxide, and in glacial acetic and concentrated sulphuric acids. It dissolved on warming indilute (N/20) hydrochloric and acetic acids. After drying at 100 [degrees] it dissolved only with difficulty in boiling dilute alkali, more readily in stronger alkali, and was almost insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid.

The pigment from the later extractions of the skin, which was insoluble in dilute acid, was also purified by treatment on the filter paper repeatedly with boiling N/20 hydrochloric acid. It was then washed repeatedly with water and subsequently dissolved in warm N/20 sodium hydroxide.

The melanin was precipitated by adding hydrochloric acid in slight excess, washed by decantation until free from acid, filtered and washed with alcohol and ether, and extracted as before with carbon disulphide, light petroleum and ether, and dried at 100 [degrees]. This powder, after drying, dissolved completely, but only very slowly, in boiling alkalies.

In the above manner both acid-soluble and acid-insoluble preparations were obtained from the three skins.

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