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.
Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye color of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996 when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye color.
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."