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Is eye color incomplete dominance?

Eye color is a complex genetic trait that has been studied extensively by scientists. The inheritance of eye color involves multiple genes and demonstrates a phenomenon called incomplete dominance. Incomplete dominance refers to when the phenotype (physical appearance) of the heterozygote is intermediate between the two homozygotes. Let’s explore eye color genetics and the evidence for incomplete dominance.

Basic Genetics of Eye Color

There are two main genes that influence eye color: the OCA2 and HERC2 genes. The OCA2 gene codes for the P protein that is involved in producing the pigment melanin. Melanin is responsible for brown/black eye color. The HERC2 gene regulates expression of the OCA2 gene. Different variants of these genes are associated with blue, green, and brown eye colors.

Here is a simple overview of the major eye color genotypes:

Genotype Eye Color
BB or Bb Brown eyes
bb Blue eyes
Gb Green eyes

As you can see, two copies of the B allele leads to brown eyes, while two copies of the b allele leads to blue eyes. The G allele also influences green eye color.

Evidence for Incomplete Dominance in Eye Color

So why is eye color described as an example of incomplete dominance? First, let’s review the definition of incomplete dominance:

– With incomplete dominance, the phenotypes of the heterozygote is a blend or mix of the two homozygous phenotypes.

– For example, a cross between a red flower (RR) and white flower (rr) producing pink flowers (Rr) is a classic example of incomplete dominance.

Now let’s look at some of the key evidence that eye color follows incomplete dominance:

1. Range of Eye Colors in Humans

There is a continuous range of eye colors in humans from blue to green to hazel to brown. This supports that two different allele combinations can blend to create intermediate eye colors.

2. Hererochromia

Some people demonstrate heterochromia where one eye is a different color than the other. This can be segmental (part of the iris is a different color) or total heterochromia. This suggests mosaicism or different allelic makeup in different parts of the body.

3. Parents and Children Eye Color

When studying the eye color of parents and their children, the children often demonstrate an intermediate eye color compared to their parents. For example, blue and brown eyed parents can have hazel or green eyed children.

Parent 1 Parent 2 Child
Blue eyes (bb) Brown eyes (BB) Hazel eyes (Bb)
Green eyes (Gb) Brown eyes (BB) Hazel eyes (GB)

This blending of parental eye colors supports the incomplete dominance model.

Other Complexities in Eye Color Genetics

While the inheritance of eye color provides strong evidence for incomplete dominance, there are also many complexities that should be discussed:

1. Other Genes Involved

In addition to OCA2 and HERC2, there are several other genes that can influence eye color to a lesser degree. These include SLC24A4, TYR, SLC45A2, and IRF4. Variants in these genes likely contribute to the continuous range of eye colors seen.

2. Epistasis

There are also epistatic relationships between genes that control eye color. This is when the variant in one gene masks expression of another gene. For example, HERC2 variants can reduce expression of OCA2, turning brown eyes blue.

3. Environment and Age

Non-genetic factors also affect eye color, such as environment and age. Melanin content can increase or decrease over a lifetime leading to changes in eye color.

While eye color demonstrates incomplete dominance, all these factors above make it a quantitatively and qualitatively complex trait.


In summary, extensive research on eye color genetics provides evidence that it follows a model of incomplete dominance. The range of colors, occurrence of heterochromia, and blending of parental eye colors all support that eye color is not a simple Mendelian trait. However, there are still many complexities involving multiple genes, epistasis, and environmental factors that contribute to the continuous spectrum of eye colors we see.