June 24th, 2010

Just call him/her Ol’ Blue Eyes

It seems that all persons with blue eyes are descended from a single common ancestor. Before that moment, which occurred in a lone genetic mutation between six and ten thousand years ago, all human eyes were brown.

36 Responses to “Just call him/her Ol’ Blue Eyes”

  1. Pablo Says:

    So we have the technology. What do you think about using reproductive technologies to pick cosmetic traits, such as blue eyes?

    “If nobody gets hurt and everybody has access, then genetic modification is perfectly fine, and restricting it is an assault on reproductive freedom. It’s in the same category as abortion. If you think women have the right to control their own bodies, then they should be able to make this choice,” he said. “There should be no law restricting the kind of kids people have, unless there’s gross evidence that they’re going to harm that kid, or harm society.” – Transhumanist author James Hughes

  2. Sergey Says:

    James Hughes is an idiot. He does not understand what he is talking about. It is impossible to know now what consequencies of changing a single gen can be. So at the early days of gene engineering there was a consensusual moratorium among specialists to ban introduction of any modifications into human gene pool. All gene manipulations with a therapeutic aim should be restricted in such way that they do not introduce any heriditary novelty.

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: in other words, beware the law of unintended consequences.

  4. Sergey Says:

    Yes. And in case of development genetics these consequences are largely unknown. Genetics is a simple science: it studies the laws of transmitting genes. But the ways of realizing this genetic information during individual development are awfully complicated. Development biology is not in its infancy, it is actually in embrionic stage (pun intended).

  5. Barb the Evil Genius Says:

    I’m sure I’m missing something here, but since the blue-eyed gene is recessive, wouldn’t it take mutations in at least two people?

  6. Sergey Says:

    Blue eyes are not only cosmetology issue. This trait is usually correlates with red hair, pale skin, inabilty to stay long at bright sun without sunburns and many other physiological deviations, as high rate of endogenous depression, suicide and alcoholism. Most of people with this trait are of Celtic or Finno-Hungarian origin. Many of them are Swedes or Irish. The same genes that control melanin production also control neural system development and patterns of neurotransmitters metabolism. It includes tyrosinase activity (melanin is synthesed from tyrosine), DOPA production (used in threatment of Parkinson disease and depression) and in many other metabolytical pathways.

  7. Sergey Says:

    Barb, not necessary. It arises in one individual but spreads in population in heterozygotic form, untill in becomes frequent enough to produce homozygotic mutants (people who inherited it from both parents). And then it gets phenotypic expression and can be fixed in some small communities. In the North it can even be beneficial, giving better eyesight in low light.

  8. Artfldgr Says:

    and red hair is even newer.

    funny thing… in our culture, red heads ahve been emasculated.. today men with red hair are thought to be women so women with red hair are masculine.

    in history, the reverse is more true.
    they are and were a terror and beauty to behold..

    mark twain a red head said we were descended from cats.

    many of the founding fathers of the US were red heads, as were the founders of the soviet union.

    Alexander the great was a red head… as was napoleon… Columbus and Isabella. Squeeky fromm from the manson family. L ron Hubbard…
    lizzy borden… cleopatra… oliver cromwell.. vivaldi.. emily dickenson.. thomas jefferson…
    james joyce, gallileo, and van gogh, washington, winston churchil, lenin… malcom X, king david.. elizabeth I. prince harry.. richard the lionheart…
    martin van beuren, and general custer… Reba McEntire, Axl Rose, Johnny Rotten, and many more.
    then there are the female starlets.

    you might remember only “blue eyes” for blue eyes, but remember robert redford known for blue eyes, was also a red head.

    only 1 in 1000 in the world have red hair
    but they are disproportionatly represented in power.
    even more than jewish, or along with as there are red headed jewish as well.

    the color is controlled not by one gene, but 6…

    we have lower tolerance for heat
    higher tolerance for pain and drugs…

    and why are so many famous, and movers and shakers?

    well, a study was done on the psychology of red heads.

    turns out that since we are not part of any group… we are ostracized for being so rare. what ends up happening is that we develop very independent personalities.

    we never belong so we don’t try..

    people who do that, tend to set standards not meet them.

    to all that blue eye talk i can only say..

  9. Artfldgr Says:

    All gene manipulations with a therapeutic aim should be restricted in such way that they do not introduce any heriditary novelty.


    all you do is push off the effect from primary, to round about. everything counts… just as your part of the experiment. :)

    right now i have code that can simulate multicellular organisms, and can grow solutions. but alas, i cant connect that to the right place as i am outside the tower.

    i can lay out exactly how certain things work in the abstract, and i am teamed up with a geneticst. but he is not a information scientist, and so he doenst understand that i came at teh problem from a different angle than the statistcal that they are starting to use.

    i will say that the system in principals is simple enough that a high scholl student can understand it. but its outcomes from such simple rules is so complicated that unraveling it back to the simple rules SEEMS intractable.

    but, as in the past, what was intractable, becomes tractable if you put things together right.

    wish i could team up… i have LOTS of stuff in the books… been creating non stop since i was young and at bronx sciecne.

    i am in very good company…

    like ramanujan, but covering very different mathematical domains, and sadly without my hoyle.

    at this point i would be lucky to be shot just to end the frustration and the disconnect.

    lets just say that my autistic type skills (but not having autism) and being hyper autodidactic has its interesting parts.

    but its very lonely…

    redhair was bad enough to put me outside
    but blowing the curve and studying and memorizing things like rainman… makes me a freak to be avoided. which makes me wonder why they want to learn how to make more. they dont appreciate or use what they have.

    i am living proof that one is not oppressed if one doesnt pay for school. (as was others in my family. and abraham lincoln, faraday, walter pits, newton, leibniz, thomas huxley, and even joseph campbell)

    i only sleep about 4 hours a night, the rest of the time i spend working. doing artwork, writing, designing fixing and solving intractable puzzles for fun.

    always searching for a domain of knowledge i don’t know, then i devour it…. or a group to visit, or something else to do. unlike academics i am a very adventursome person. and risking my life isnt a problem… its a judgment call. :)

    i dont belong, i will never belong.

    until i do something that they like

    too bad the skills needed to work on such hard problems are opposite what you need to erect the business to support it.

  10. Sergey Says:

    Art, you can add to this list Ronald Reagan, Joe Biden and Gen. McCrystall. What they have in common is a fierce temperament, resolve, sometimes advanturism and reckless behavior and inability to keep one’s mouth shut.

  11. Pablo Says:

    “i dont belong, i will never belong.”

    Please somebody VALIDATE MEEEE!

  12. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    If I correctly remember high school biology, the recessive nature of the gene for blue eyes must mean that not only blue-eyed people, but also brown-eyed people like me who have blue-eyed children and other blue-eyed relatiosn must be descended one way or another from the original Ol’ Blue Eyes. Lots of blue eyes bobbing around in my gene pool. Lots of red hair, too, though not always in the same folks.

  13. Mr. Frank Says:


    You’ll have to tell us. How did a formerly liberal, East Coast, Yankee ever learn of Crystal Gayle. Next thing you’ll put up a link to Ronnie Milsap.

  14. ElMondoHummus Says:

    1. While it’s obvious how they figured out it there was a common ancestor, what I’m trying to figure out is how they’re able to put a date on the mutation. I should go dig the original paper up… problem is, it’s probably in Danish… :-(

    2. As a commentor at the link noted: The blue eye mutation may not necessarily be a neutral one. As he (and Sergey here) noted, there’s better low light vision with this mutation. That may indeed have been a competitive advantage.

  15. Scott Says:

    So I’m descended from a freak of nature. Some people I’ve known over the years probably would not be surprised by that fact.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    Mr. Frank: That particular song was big as a crossover hit in the 70s.

    I even knew that Gayle was Loretta Lynn’s much younger sister. So there.

  17. Curtis Says:

    Evolution, as known by the average person, is a lie!

    Tell me no secrets
    Tell me some lies
    Give me no reasons
    Give me evolution?

  18. Kae Arby Says:

    What I find amazing is that this supposed common ancestor was able to survive long enough to have children. Like Scott said, this blue eyed ancestor would have been treated as a freak of nature…and treated as such (read killed).

  19. Sergey Says:

    As I already mentioned, this ancestor did not have blue eyes: this mutation is recessive. As for time of his life, there is a very elegant mathematical theory of coalescence, which allows to determine the time of life of nearest common ancestor of any large group whose DNA we can collect. This is done by comparing distribution of several dozen neutral genetic markers of mithochondrial DNA under assumption of “molecular clocks”, that is, universal rate of neutral mutation.

  20. Sergey Says:

    The first blue-eyed person, probably, arose in 4th or 5th generation of progeny of the original mutant, when they marry their 4th or 5th cousines. Even if he/she was killed, this change nothing: the cat was already out of bag.

  21. Sergey Says:

    One of the most famous blue-eyed American was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, nick-named by Japanese “blue-eyed Shougun”. Many other men with that trait are known as political and military leaders with eccentric, erratic and abusive behavior, charismatic non-conformism and astonishing self-confidence: Napoleonic marshal Ney, Anatoly Chubais, poet Yosif Brodsky et al.

  22. Sergey Says:

    The type of personality I mentioned above is best exemplified by Orde Wingate. ” Both Jackson and Wingate were young, handsome, bearded men with piercing blue eyes”. “With only a few hundred men Wingate bluffed 12,000 Italians into surrender.” “A manic depressive, Wingate was taken ill and spent several months in a hospital in Cairo”. “He seemed almost to rejoice in making enemies, but he was a military genius of a grandeur and stature seen not more than once or twice in a century. Secondly, no other officer I have heard of, could have dreamed the dream, planned the plan, obtained, trained, inspired and led the force. There are men who shine at planning, or at training, or at leading; here was a man who excelled at all three, and whose vision at the council table matched his genius in the field.”
    These are only few quotes from his biography, but the same could be written about Douglas MacArthur, Andrew Jackson, marshal Ney and other genius mavericks.

  23. Sergey Says:

    “Jackson also had an unruly shock of red hair, which had completely grayed by the time he became president at age 61.”
    “Gallatin criticized Jackson as “an honest man and the idol of the worshippers of military glory, but from incapacity, military habits, and habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions, altogether unfit for the office.””
    Even Jackson’s tactic in wars against Seminoles reminds Wingate’s tactic used against Arabs in Palestine and Japanese in Burma. Those beliving in reincarnation would argue that these two were actually the same person. I believe in genetics and that DNA is destiny.

  24. Pablo Says:

    “I believe in genetics and that DNA is destiny.”

    Consider epigenetics. The science seems to be rewriting that thesis and the rules of disease, heredity, and identity, etc.

    I like it because it implies that I can blame lifestyles adopted by our forebears two or more generations back for my current flabby condition…

  25. Trebuchet Says:

    So, blue eyed people popped up 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s interesting that Usher put the creation of Adam and Eve at a little over 6,000 years ago, perhaps a genetic intervention? Also, some one here wondered why Redheads were so prevalent in the founding of our country and other important movements in history. It’s because they are descended from the Celts, the largest remnant of the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel.

  26. Sergey Says:

    Can you see a resemblance?
    I certainly can. Not in situation, but in physiognomy.

  27. Curtis Says:

    Sergey: Saying you believe that DNA is destiny is rather disingenuous. Destiny implies “according to plan” and what is DNA except the plan. So what do you mean when you say DNA is destiny?

  28. Sergey Says:

    It means a lot of personal traits both physical and mental are predetermined by an unique genetic composition of an individual. Even your choices are largely controlled by your genetic makeup. There was a huge longitudinal study of concordance of personal traits in pairs of monozygotic and dizigotic twins rised up separately in adopting families, known as Minnesota Twin Study. Its results were summed up in popular book “Born this way”. Monozygotic twins showed remarkable coincidence in their habits, career choices, marital choices and even names they gave to their pets. See

  29. Curtis Says:

    Thank you very much for your answer. I was thinking in a different context where the subject was not a person but evolution.

    I’ll read the study. Being a monozygotic twin, I know the reality of which you speak. One detail: The one thing both my brother and I retained from our military service was our Commanding Officer’s dictionary. Same red volume with black marker on the top edge memorializing “CO.”

  30. Foxfier Says:

    I hope they have more to back up a single ancestor than all blue-eyes sharing a common mutation… that might be the only way that blue eyes can be found in humans, and (not being obviously bad for survival) it was simply not wiped out.

    (I have a not-exactly-personal interest, since my Elf and our darling Kit both have baby-blue eyes.)

  31. Wm Lawrence Says:

    From what little I remember of my high school biology (way too many years ago) A recessive trait can not be wiped out of a population. It is normally hidden and appears sporadically. I suppose our new found ability to read the genetic code could change that.

  32. Sergey Says:

    I have not read the original paper, but if they did coalescence analysis (and they did), they have a positive evidence of a single-mutation origin of the trait. I mean, if in all studied cases the lines of coalescence merge in one point, this assertion is proved. If the trait had a multiple origin, they would get several clasters of lines of descent that does not connect each other in historical time. For example, the Scottish population would have one nearest common ancesstor of all their blue-eyed, Irish population – its own nearest common ancestor, and so on.

  33. Foxfier Says:

    if it’s the same mutation, I don’t think it would be possible to narrow it down from just that one gene. You could get evidence that it’s always found with X in this population, and that X is this different from the X in this population in a way that we think indicates separation by Y generations (same way they figure the mitochondrial mother, IIRC)

    Huh….from what I can find nosing around, coalescence theory has as a base assumption that all traits are from a single ancestor. If I remember my logic correctly, that means it can’t be used to prove a single ancestor– just to calculate within the assumption.

  34. Sergey Says:

    No, coalescence is a method, not a theory, and it is based on assumption that any combination of several neutral markers can not be replicated in evolution, it can be only inherited. Usually many such combinations are traced, and they can be inherited in different times from different ancestors. The coalescent is a tree with maximal score, which can explain observed distribution of markers in population with maximal likelihood. It is computed using dynamical programming algorithm.
    Traits are not the same as markers. Here only one trait was studied, a mutation of blue eyes, but a lot of markers (neutral mutations in mtDNA) were used in construction of coalescent explaining origin of this trait.

  35. Foxfier Says:

    You can’t prove something with a system that is based on what you’re trying to prove– that’s circular reasoning. It might be 100% accurate, it’s just not proof.

    From the tiny snippet we have (I’m going to assume they did more than a press release for years of study ^.^), they were looking at a single trait, yes, but they only mention that there’s a single identical mutation that causes it. Which is why my first post was about me hoping they had SOMETHING more than just that as a base for the guess.

    On a side note, I only just noticed the personification of nature in the quotes by the doctor. Hehe.

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    […]neo-neocon » Blog Archive » Just call him/her Ol’ Blue Eyes[…]…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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