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 Inheriting Eye Color 
eye color - illustration bobcat mother and kitten
Bobcat mother and kitten.
Source: Corel

Children look like their parents, but not exactly.

Children inherit characteristics from their parents.

Individuals have an appearance (say brown eye color). Individuals also have genes. Each individual carries two copies of each of their genes, one from each parent. A gene often comes in two flavors (such as a gene for eye color that makes eyes brown or blue). An individual can thus have two copies of the gene with the same flavor (brown-brown), or two copies of different flavors (brown-blue). Human eye color is controlled by at least three genes, though we only understand two of them well.

Let's pretend that two genes (with two flavors each) explain the inheritance of human eye color (though we know that the situation is more complex than this). These two genes are a brown-blue gene and a green-blue gene. We can ask what children different combinations of parents would produce. For example, what happens when blue eyed and brown eyed parents have children?

Note that this two gene model does not explain most human eye color inheritance. We know that there are black eyes, grey eyes, hazel eyes, and differing shades of brown, blue, and green eyes that are not explained by these two genes. Human eye color inheritance is a complicated polygenic system than we are pretending in this simplified two gene example.

Eye Color Calculator

1) First, select the Parents' eye colors:
  Eye Color of Mother:
  Eye Color of Father:
eye of mother eye of father
2) Now select the parents' eye color genes:
Mother's Genes:
  Brown/Blue gene     Green/Blue gene  
Father's Genes:
  Brown/Blue gene     Green/Blue gene  
3) And then:  (press again for more children).
Eye of child
Brown eyed Children: Green eyed Children: Blue eyed Children:

So what is going on here?

The probablities for inheritance of eye color in these crosses can be worked out using a Punnett Square.

Sources: Eiberg and Mohr, 1996; Eiberg and Mohr, 1987;
Eiberg H. and J. Mohr, 1996. Assignment of genes coding for brow n eye colour (BEY2) and brown hair colour (HCL3) on chromosome 15q. Eur J Hum G enet. 4:237-41 Eiberg H. and J. Mohr, 1987. Major genes of eye color and hair color linked to LU and SE. Clin. Genet. 31:186-91 Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man, OMIM (TM). Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. MIM Number: 227220: 6/15/1999: (EYCL3). World Wide Web URL:
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man, OMIM (TM). Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. MIM Number: 227240: 7/21/1998 : (EYCL1) . World Wide Web URL:

Thanks to Arden and Hunter for pointing out an error and suggesting a fix to the javascript code (in 2002).
This introduction to the genetics of human eye color inheritance is part of the Athro, Limited web site.
Copyright © 1999-2007 Athro, Limited. All Rights Reserved.
Written by Paul J. and Susan F. Morris
Maintained by Athro Limited
Date Created:1999 July 30
Last Updated:2007 Nov 5