Very few of us would be happy to be called a mutant (unless, of course, you’re really into the X-Men). But the fact is, we’re all mutants. Everything that makes us human, from our opposable thumbs to our oversized brains, is part of us today because of mutations long in our evolutionary past.
However, some mutations are rarer than others, and some beautiful human features are actually due to rare genetic mutations. Here are eight of humankind’s most beautiful genetic anomalies!
1. Double Eyelashes: Distichiasis is a “disorder” where you have a second row (or, “accessory row”) of eyelashes, making your lashes super thick. Basically, what happens is that you grow hair where you’re supposed to have oil glands, on your waterline. It’s sometimes a gorgeous advantage (Liz Taylor is famous for her distichiasis) and it’s sometimes just a plain inconvenience (think “eyelashes growing into your eyes”).
2. Piebaldism: For people with this mutation, melanin-producing melanocyte cells are missing in specific areas of skin. Almost everyone with piebaldism (90%) has a white streak in their hair right at the hairline, with the streak sometimes continuing onto the skin underneath.Often, people with piebaldism also have white patches on their body and, for some unknown reason, they’re often symmetrical across the body. While the mutation looks like vitiligo (which we’ll see later on the list), the patches of white skin don’t tend to spread after birth in people who have piebaldism.
3. Heterochromia: Heterochromia iridum basically means that you have different colors in your eyes. There are three different types: complete heterochromia means that both eyes are different colors, segmental heterochromia means that part of one iris is a different color, and central heterochromia means that there are different-colored spikes radiating out from the pupil. Ironically, this gorgeous mutation is believed to happen because of a lack of genetic diversity!
4. Cleft chin: This attractive mutation is actually caused by a bone development failure. What we see as a “cleft” actually happens when the two halves of the jawbone can’t fuse properly. Fortunately, there are no real negative effects of this “failure to fuse.” We’re still not exactly sure how it’s inherited; men are more likely to have cleft chins than women, and it doesn’t appear to be inherited through a simple dominant/recessive model.
5. Vitiligo: Much like piebaldism, vitiligo involves pigment-less patches of skin. However, vitiligo is a degenerative condition, meaning that the patches often spread over time. Scientists are unsure exactly why it happens, although it’s thought to be due to an underlying genetic condition triggered by environmental stress. Around 1% of the population has the mutation.
6. Freckles: Freckles are a pretty common mutation, but they’re a mutation nonetheless. Essentially, what happens is that people with heavy freckles have a different kind of melanin than other people, photomelanin (which is coppery-orange) rather than eumelanin (which is brown, and causes us to tan on exposure to sun). Photomelanin is also associated with red hair, which is why there are so many freckled redheads! We’re still not exactly sure about how photomelanin is inherited, which is why redheads often seem to “spring from nowhere” on the family tree.
7. Eye color variation: The incredible variation in human eye color, from rich brown to pale green, is one of our species’ most beautiful traits. But one of these variations, blue eyes, are actually the result of a single mutation between six and ten thousand years ago. In 2008, geneticists traced the “blue eyes gene” back to a common ancestor, who was born with a genetic “switch” that “turned off” pigment in the eyes.
8. Tetrachromat vision: Most humans have three kinds of light-receiving cone cells, which give us better vision than most other mammals. Because the genes for cone pigments are on the X chromosomes, some researchers believe that women may be more likely to be tetrachromats (i.e. they have four cones and would be able to process more color variation than the average human). In a 2010 study, neuroscientist Dr. Gabriele Jordan was able to find a woman who displayed some signs of being a tetrachromat (i.e. increased color recognition)
This incredibly rare mutation may not make the bearer more beautiful, but it makes the world more beautiful to them. And anyway, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?