Brief communication: Blue eyes in lemurs and humans: Same phenotype, different genetic mechanism



Almost all mammals have brown or darkly-pigmented eyes (irises), but among primates, there are some prominent blue-eyed exceptions. The blue eyes of some humans and lemurs are a striking example of convergent evolution of a rare phenotype on distant branches of the primate tree. Recent work on humans indicates that blue eye color is associated with, and likely caused by, a single nucleotide polymorphism (rs12913832) in an intron of the gene HERC2, which likely regulates expression of the neighboring pigmentation gene OCA2. This raises the immediate question of whether blue eyes in lemurs might have a similar genetic basis. We addressed this by sequencing the homologous genetic region in the blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur macaco flavifrons; N = 4) and the closely-related black lemur (Eulemur macaco macaco; N = 4), which has brown eyes. We then compared a 166-bp segment corresponding to and flanking the human eye-color-associated region in these lemurs, as well as other primates (human, chimpanzee, orangutan, macaque, ring-tailed lemur, mouse lemur). Aligned sequences indicated that this region is strongly conserved in both Eulemur macaco subspecies as well as the other primates (except blue-eyed humans). Therefore, it is unlikely that this regulatory segment plays a major role in eye color differences among lemurs as it does in humans. Although convergent phenotypes can sometimes come about via the same or similar genetic changes occurring independently, this does not seem to be the case here, as we have shown that the genetic basis of blue eyes in lemurs differs from that of humans. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.