Join ‘Circles’ and help study a uniquely human trait!

Circles in Human Biology studies a “sensitive” topic: The human areola!

All mammals have nipples, but only humans have areolas. Areolas are the pigmented circular markings that surround our nipples. How did we get these markings? Why are some areolas large and others small? Can we find the genes that build these circles and discover why we have them?

Anyone – of any gender! – can join. The study is especially interested in participants who have had genetic sequencing.


Participation is easy:

  • Sign up on Open Humans
  • Complete an online survey
  • Use simple measurement tools to share data about your own body
  • Share photos of your areolas with the researchers (helpful but not required)

Almost 400 people have signed up and shared their data so far!

By analyzing participant-reported data, the ‘Circles’ team has already learned that areolas are much more diverse than previously thought. They’ve also discovered that the diameter of a person’s areolas is unrelated to the number of areolar glands they have. In fact, people can have anywhere from 0 to more than 30 of these little bumps. Scientists believe these bumps help protect nipples during nursing and provide an olfactory cue to help newborn infants nurse, but research has yet to confirm this.

Learning about diversity in areola morphology could not only help scientists understand breast health, it could teach us about human genetic diversity in general.

To read a New York Times article about this study, click here.

We vary in all kinds of traits, from physical traits like height and hair color to sensory traits like taste or odor perception. These differences impact our lives in big ways, from what foods we eat to what medicines work for us to how we feed our babies. We are just starting to understand how these traits are built genetically and why they vary. These discoveries are going to give us fascinating new insights into the way our genomes build our bodies and influence our lives.

– Abby Wark, Project Director of ‘Circles’

Join ‘Circles in Human Biology’ today!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.