WASHINGTON, January 26, 2015- New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye color of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.
“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” said Professor Hans Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch,” which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes.” The “switch,” however, doesn’t turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris- effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue.
Variation in the color of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg.
“They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.”
Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.
The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair color, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”
Source: University of Copenhagen
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