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The Science of Eye Color: Genetic Mysteries Unraveled

Exploring the Genetic Tapestry Behind the Colors of Our Eyes

genetics of eye color

Eye color, one of the most noticeable traits in humans, is a complex and intriguing aspect of our genetic makeup. This article delves into the intricate world of genetics to explain how we get our eye color.

Genetic Foundations: The Basics of Eye Color

"Over 55% of the world's population has brown eyes, making it the most common eye color globally."

Eye color is primarily determined by variations in a person's genes. Most of the genes associated with eye color are involved in the production, transport, and storage of a pigment called melanin. The more melanin in the iris of your eyes, the darker they will be.

The Role of Melanin in Eye Color Variation

Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes, which are found in the iris. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin, which is dark brown, and pheomelanin, which is lighter and can appear reddish. The combination and amount of these melanins in the iris determine eye color.

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"Approximately 79% of people with blue eyes can be traced back to a common ancestor from near the Black Sea 6,000 to 10,000 years ago."

Genetic Complexity: More Than Just Brown, Blue, and Green

While early genetic models suggested that eye color was a simple Mendelian trait, modern science reveals a more complex picture. Several genes contribute to eye color, with the two most significant being OCA2 and HERC2, located on chromosome 15.

Major Genes: OCA2 and HERC2

The OCA2 gene plays a role in the production of melanin. Variations in this gene can reduce the amount of melanin produced, leading to lighter eye colors. The HERC2 gene influences how the OCA2 gene works, particularly a region of HERC2 that can switch OCA2 on or off.

"Research shows that 10-15% of eye color variation is attributed to factors other than genetics, such as age and environmental influences."

The Rarity of Green Eyes and Other Unique Shades

Green eyes, the rarest color, are thought to result from the interaction of multiple genes, resulting in a reduced amount of melanin in the iris mixed with a high amount of pheomelanin.

Beyond Genetics: Environmental and Age-Related Factors

While genetics play a crucial role in determining eye color, environmental factors like sunlight and age can also influence the perception and changes in eye color over time.

Understanding the Genetic Tapestry

Discovering the exact genetic causes of specific eye colors is an ongoing area of research. The PAX6 gene, for example, is known to be involved in the development of the iris.

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