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Creation 40(3):26–27, July 2018

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Blue eyes mutation

Making brown eyes blue

by and


Brown is the predominant eye colour of people around the world. But many people of European descent have blue eyes, as one of the authors (DC) does. Blue-eyed people have less of a brown pigment known as melanin in their irises. Interestingly, the blue colour is not caused by blue pigment but by light scattering from the diffuse layer of the brown melanin, similar to how sunlight scattering off air molecules makes the sky blue.

Believing that blue eyes were likely the result of a genetic mutation, and thinking that the OCA2 gene determines the amount of melanin in our eyes, for some years researchers searched that gene for the mutation. But they couldn’t find it there.1

Then some researchers noted that two disorders that can result in albinism or reduced eye pigmentation, namely the Prader–Willi and Angelman syndromes, were caused by partial deletion not just of the OCA2 gene, but also another gene known as HERC2. Researchers subsequently discovered that the ‘blue eyes’ mutation is actually in the HERC2 gene, a gene that regulates the activity of OCA2.2 The mutated HERC2 gene strongly inhibits the OCA2 gene’s role in eye pigment production, drastically reducing the amount of melanin produced in the iris, resulting in blue eyes.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” explained lead researcher Professor Hans Eiberg of the University of Copenhagen, likening the HERC2 mutated gene’s effect on the OCA2 gene to that of “a ‘switch’, which literally ‘turned off’ the ability to produce brown eyes.”3 Given how little variation there is in blue eyes, the researchers conclude that all blue-eyed people have this same mutation, and share the same blue-eyed ancestor. According to Eiberg and his co-workers, that first blue-eyed individual likely lived in the Black Sea area about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, during the “great agriculture migration” from Africa into northern Europe.2

However, that presumed date and ancestral source is based on evolutionary assumptions, whereas the Bible’s post-Flood, post-Babel chronology would put the timing of the blue-eyed mutation as occurring sometime in the past 4,000 or so years. Why would we say this? Well, if the mutation is only found in one subpopulation (Europeans), it would have to arise after Europeans separated from the rest of the world population.

Prior to Babel, we would expect the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth to intermix (because there were no other people to marry!), so any genetic variant found among the pre-Babel peoples would be expected to be mixed up among the post-Babel peoples. There is a chance that the ‘blue eyes’ gene existed earlier but remained hidden because the ‘brown eyes’ gene is dominant over the ‘blue eyes’ gene. In the same way, ‘light skin’ genes are found all over Africa but are hidden by the dominant ‘dark skin’ genes.4 However, after millions of people across the world have had their DNA tested, it is clear that the genetic variants associated with blue eyes are highly correlated with people of European descent.

Note also that evolutionary theory looks to mutations as being evolution’s ‘engine’,5 i.e. the source of new genetic information by which evolution could have powered pond protozoa to become people over millions of years. However, there’s no evidence of any such information-gaining mutations here. Assuming brown eyes were the original colour, and there is good reason to think this, instead we see a loss of genetic information: the deletion of parts of genes, the switching off of the ability to produce brown eyes, the damaging of a gene’s ability to correctly regulate other genes, the inhibition of a gene’s production function.

All these are symptomatic of a world “in bondage to decay”, just as the Bible says (Romans 8:19–22). To borrow the colloquial words of a once-popular song, but with this cursed and fallen world sadly in mind: “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue”.

Are blue eyes harmful?

Although mutations can so damage genes that they affect survival, thankfully others are largely ‘neutral’ in terms of survivability, as the blue eyes mutation appears to be. Less melanin means more light will get through the iris. Individuals with blue eyes often report increased sensitivity to light, thus they might have some disadvantage in areas with strong sunlight (although nowadays they have the option of sunglasses, thankfully), which could be one reason blue eyes are more common in poorly sunlit areas. It is uncertain whether another factor in that could be the better vision in low light that has been claimed to be associated with blue eyes. Or, it might have nothing to do with selection for light sensitivity; in which case, the greater percentage of blue-eyed people in Northern Europe might just be due to chance. So those of us with blue eyes can soldier on yet.

References and notes

  1. Williams, Z., and Orwig, J., All blue-eyed people have a single ancestor in common, businessinsider.com.au, 22 September 2017. Return to text.
  2. Eiberg, H., and 6 others, Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression, Human Genetics 123(2):177–187, 2008 | doi:10.1007/s00439-007-0460-x. Return to text.
  3. University of Copenhagen, Blue-eyed humans have a single, common ancestor, sciencedaily.com, 31 January 2008. Return to text.
  4. Carter, R.W., Skin colour surprises, creation.com/skin-colour-surprises, 23 November 2017. Return to text.
  5. Williams, A., Evolution’s engine becomes evolution’s end!, Journal of Creation 22(2):60–66, 2008. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Michael T.
It is interesting that Cheddar Man, who was found in a cave in the Cheddar Gorge in England in the early 1900s, is alleged to have had (according to genetic analysis) blue eyes and dark skin which seems to indicate that lightening of the eyes preceded lightening of the skin. This also provides extra-biblical support for the rapid diversification of man's physical characteristics after Babel.
Robert Carter
This was certainly big news when it was first announced, but one of the geneticists involved in that study very quickly issued a caution. We are very far from 'knowing' the skin and eye colors of ancient people. The genetic systems involved are very complex and even today we cannot tell a person's coloration from the DNA with 100% accuracy. For example, 23andMe tells me I should have blue eyes, yet my eyes are dark brown.
Caro C.
You might want to dig a little deeper unless your intentionally staying in denial. The pacific islands as well as the Maori people in nz all the way to Peru talk about the tall white blue eyed blonde/red headed people who were there before these people arrived. They are called cloud people, white gods etc. that’s why these islands still carry the red/blonde hair even tho they aren’t Caucasian. The Denisovan were the giants. The isrealites were blonde/red blue eyed. Anthropology proves all these Caucasian skeletons found all over the world who’s haplogroups lead right to the Fertile Crescent. The Neanderthal ydna is group H which is Caucasian.
Robert Carter
You might want to dig a little deeper yourself to make sure you are not spreading misinformation. While one or two of the points you made might be valid, together with the incorrect statements they comprise a research disaster.

Denisovans were not giants. We have their DNA and a few skeletal fragments and there is nothing there to suggest people of 'giant' proportions.

Regarding the 'people who were there before', there is no genetic or archaeological evidence for this claim. Rather than being an ancient variant that introgressed from a prior population, the light hair/skin variant found among some of the South Pacific peoples is different (both genetically and phenotypically) from the light skin/hair variants found among Europeans today. It is a mutation that arose within that population.

The Israelites were light skinned and light eyed?! How could this be true when they never maintained genetic discontinuity with the surrounding nations? See my article Extensive mixing among Israelites and non-Israelites in biblical history for starters.

No, the one partial Neanderthal Y chromosome we have does not belong to haplogroup H. I have checked, carefully. Worse, I think you are referring to the Neanderthal mitochondria. Haplogroup H is the majority mitochondrial group in Western Europe today. This was not true in the past, however. And in the deepest past, the first people to live in Europe were Neanderthals, but they were also not in group H.

Lastly, you keep using the term 'Caucasian'. This term has been outmoded. It was an evolutionary idea, heavily influenced by evolutionary racism, and stands counter to biblical history and modern genetics. Even the evolutionary community has given up on it.

Forgive me if I am a little off base, and I could be wrong about the sense of what I am reading, but I want to encourage you to let go of these older, outdated, and non-biblical ideas. There is no definition of the word "Caucasian" and there is no clear-cut difference between any of the 'races' or major world populations. See for example Skin colour surprises and Inbreeding and the origin of races.
Charli B.
It is likely that God made varieties of colors in eyes, hair, skin, etc. to make populations more diverse, perhaps lighter complected/blue eyed/light-haired people in colder regions with less daily sun to survive in darker colder regions, and darker complected/brown eyed/dark haired people to survive in harsh heat and intense lengthy sunlight. As populations have become more global and mixed, we have created more diversity. That, or the Fallen Angels were lighter complected/blue eyed/light-haired, then impregnated darker complected/brown eyed/dark haired women and that gene-pool continues to this day, despite the Great Flood. What do you think of those who say Noah was a direct, or indirect, off-spring of Fallen Angels? While we are on Earth, this may never be fully realized, but when our body passes from this place, everything will become clear.Thus, I do not think we need to know more than what God permits.
Robert Carter
This was answered comprehensively in my article The watchers and genetic diversity. See also Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6? There is ZERO evidence of any non-human DNA in the genomes of modern humans and MUCH biblical evidence to support this.

One additional point: If a trait is geographically restricted, it was probably not within the pre-Babel population. Or, put the other way around, the more geographically restricted any genetic variant is, the more likely it is a post-Flood mutation. Thus, skin, hair, and eye color traits are excellent candidates for things that God did not create but that are due to mutation over time.
Cory B.
Please, now explain green eyes. Why do I have green eyes when no siblings, parents or extended family have them.
Robert Carter
Green eyes have an intermediate level of melanin. Blue = low melanin. Brown = high melanin.
Mark P.
The ‘brown eyes’ gene is dominant over the ‘blue eyes’ gene. Taking “the same blue-eyed ancestor” is the simplest explanation, then blue eyes did not become visible (pardon pun) until two descendants who carried the recessive mutation had a child who received a mutated gene from both parents? Although the effect is neutral in this example, it illustrates an unstated speed bump in the modern synthesis of Darwinian evolution: the story sounds (to me, at least) as if selection begins immediately after a mutation occurs. It was only after reading Genetic Entropy by Dr. John Sanford that this distinction became clear to me.
Robert Carter
Correct. Selection cannot work on a gene that is not expressed, and there are many, many recessive mutations out there. This is not true of all mutations, but the fact that many mutations can remain 'silent' in the gene pool means that selection has a very difficult time finding them.
David B.
Good morning. First, I love CMI and the work that you do - it has been a great help to me in my walk of faith. Because of this, I like to share your information with others. Recently, I shared this particular story, and I was asked how this actually works (that is, the individual was curious as to where the deletion is). The story printed here doesn't specifically state where the deletion in the HERC2 gene is. Rather, in reading up on the subject (I think that I'd have to pay for the original article that you referenced - your second reference) from other articles that reference the one you mention, all I see is information about Transcription Factors being different in blue-eyed people versus brown-eyed people. Is this really a loss of information or just a variation (gene just being switched off - or at least the production of melanin is reduced) with no actual loss of information? Also, my friend was very angry that the title associated with this article on Facebook was misleading because it seemed to indicate that the genes were completely deleted rather than just having a section of each gene deleted. How would you suggest that I respond to his objections to this article? Many thanks!!
Robert Carter
Regarding the FB post, that was done by a volunteer and has since been corrected. We apologize for the misstatements and the trouble it caused you.

We are aware of claims there are differences in transcription factor activity, but we believe this is due to missing parts of the gene -- the binding site is in the deleted area. Since there is a difference in the DNA, it is not just a matter of 'switching things off'. There is still a small possibility that this is an original variant that God programmed into Adam and Eve, but since the trait is geographically restricted and in the minority where it does appear, the most likely scenario is that it is a post-Flood mutation.
Michael B.
I've always been fascinated with the Oceanian populations that, though they have dark skin, have large numbers with blue eyes and blond hair. Most articles I've read regarding these groups state "this is due to mutation" as if their blue eyes are not to be confused with light skinned persons having blue eyes and blond hair. Are these all the same mutations being discussed here? I've always felt these must be similar but can't get any clear answers when searching through the double speak of evolutionary thought that keeps people groups segregated in their little boxes lest somehow all peoples become related instead of evolved. Thank you for the work your Ministry does. Your Brother in Christ, Michael
Robert Carter
Rufous albinism is a trait that appears at a low frequency among the Pacific Islanders. This causes red hair and reddish skin. There is also a trait called 'mixed fair hair', which is what you are referring to. This is fairly common and gives people a blondish pate. These are caused by different genetic variants. Kwashiorkor (caused by long-term protein deficiency) can also produce reddish hair, but this is not a 'normal' trait and is not due to genetics. Red-haired people show up at low frequencies across the world, reaching high proportions in Ireland, Scotland (Edinburgh, specifically), among certain people in the Volga region, etc. It also shows up in Egyptian mummies, ancient artwork, and in the genetics of ancient people. But there are multiple variants that can possibly contribute to a person having red hair, and we have much more work to do before we can know if all these people are related.
James H.
I think there's a lot more to be uncovered about this story. Blue-eyed people usually have different personality traits than brown-eyed, so it's a lot more than just a superficial color difference. God could have wired in this variant from the beginning.
Robert Carter
One of the authors of this article has brown eyes. The other has blue. Could you make any predictions about their personalities? No. There is no correlation between eye color and temperament. The other point, however is much more interesting. Ancient DNA has turned up variants that are associated with blue eyes in various early peoples. There is a possibility that the trait is old and is not a mutation, but inferring the phenotype of complex traits from the genotype is problematic. Case in point: 23andMe.com tells me I should have blue eyes, and I do not. The main reason we say the trait is a mutation is that it is geographically restricted today. The distribution of blue eyes in the world today looks like a map of the Viking invasions in medieval times. If the trait was originally in Adam and Eve, and if it was on the Ark, we would expect it to be distributed widely. Etc.

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