A pair of blue eyes

Richard_III_of_EnglandWhilst half-watching the Hairy Bikers and knitting a polar bear tonight I learned that everyone with blue eyes is descended from a common ancestor who lived between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. This led me to the Internet and to this post – the contents of which definitely predate 1066 but I was fascinated by what I read even if it turns out to be old news much of the material i read dated from 2008.

Apparently, according to the University of Denmark once upon a time everyone had brown eyes. Then a gene mutated. A couple or so generations later and bingo – blue eyes. How do we know this?  Essentially the study looked at the genes of folk with blue eyes in Denmark and then expanded their study across the globe. They had expected the gene responsible for eye colouring to be similar in all their blue-eyed samples but they weren’t just similar they were identical. The gene is called HERC2. This not only means that somewhere along the line that everyone with blue eyes is related but that because the mutation hasn’t changed at all its still fairly recent – ten thousand years (the end of the last ice age) is recent in gene terms. Further study has revealed that blue eyes must have originated somewhere in the Balkans as this is where most people have blue eyes – 99%, dropping to 75% in Germany.

I had to dig deep into my memories of school biology lessons but essentialy if I’ve remembered right we have two sets of genes – one from each parent. Brown eyes are the dominant colour so in order to have blue eyes (blue being the recessive gene) you need to have been given a matching pair of blue genes (that may be a very bad pun but I know what I mean) by each parent hence the first person with the mutation didn’t have blue eyes and nor did their children. The blue eyes would have occurred when two people carrying the recessive blue gene both gave that particular gene to their child.

A prehistoric skeleton unearthed in Spain in 2006 and written about extensively in Nature is recorded as the ‘first’ blue-eyed person. The Independent also notes that the man had lactose-intolerant genes, which means that he lived before the period when farming had become a normal way of life. It must have been pretty startling for the Mesolithic man’s parents when they produced a baby who had eyes that were blue rather than brown like everybody else’s.

There are two theories as to why blue eyes spread through the population – the first is that blue-eyed Mesolithic man was hot-stuff and consequentially there was a rash of blue eyed babies who in their turn went on to have many blue-eyed babies. More prosaically there is a theory that the gene which produces blue eyes also helped to prevent eye disease in cold dark northern climates because, very simplistically, blue eyes contain less melanin so let more light in.

Just to finish on a note that draws me firmly post-1066- analysis of King Richard III’s skeleton revealed him to be blue eyed (and probably blond in his childhood) which means that if like me you have blue eyes you can claim to be very distantly vaguely related to him.  Equally, you can also claim to be related to Cameron Diaz and Frank Sinatra.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/revealed-first-ol-blue-eyes-is-7000-years-old-and-lived-in-a-cave-9086310.html (accessed 6/10/2015 @ 22:36)

http://www.livescience.com/9578-common-ancestor-blue-eyes.html (accessed 6/10/2015@22:41)

2 thoughts on “A pair of blue eyes

  1. I was blonde at birth and born with bright green eyes that have not changed in old age. My father had blue eyes Mother had brown eyes so too my sister. My eyes are so green like emerald that I have had many girlfriends whom like them. We all may well be related back to that drift valley in Africa long before time became known to man but in 1963 my school was brought into the test for TV show. A scientist took blood samples and the results took another year and came back that one in six had Viking blood in their veins. I know we came from Anjou in France around 1246 to have the town of what is now Saint Helens. Parr Hall our first estate. By 1290 Lord Sefton estates near Liverpool. When one son went to fight alongside King Edward111 at Crecy he was awarded Kendal as Earl Marshal to keep the Scottish Steal Bonnets in check. Kentdale was burnt to the ground in that last raid and so William Parr took charge of the borders and became richer by his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Rouse the ward of the King. It is not who you are it is what you are that makes for success in any field of life. My titles I always hid when job seeking and I rose to general manager that way. People do not like to respectful to a title but respect that man if he is good and noble in his efforts to help others. My father was a better man than I though I do what I can in my own way. I love talking history and love your articles too.

    • It’s all fascinating stuff though – genes, family trees and what modern science and forensic archeology can tell us about the people who populated the past. Talking of the Norse, apparently their bloodline was the greatest bequest that the Vikings made to this country. But as you say its the person that counts not their backstory. As always thank you for your supportive comments.

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