Bounty descendants less short-sighted
Sat, 21 Jul 2012 12:54p.m.
Descendants of mutiny on the Bounty sailors have among the lowest rates of myopia, or short-sightedness, in the world and may hold the key to unlocking the genetic code for the eye disease, an Australian study shows.
The study, reported in the Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science journal, examined eye problems among the descendants of the sailors and their Polynesian wives who settled on Pitcairn Island after the mutiny in 1789 and who then moved to Norfolk Island.
University of Western Australia researcher Professor David Mackey said the study found the prevalence of short-sightedness on Norfolk Island was lower than on mainland Australia.
"But there was a two-fold higher prevalence of myopia in people without Pitcairn ancestry.
"We found the rate of Pitcairn group myopia is approximately one-half that of the Australian population and as a result would be ranked among one of the lowest rates in the world."
Pitcairn was settled in 1789 by mutineers from the British naval ship the Bounty, who set their captain William Bligh adrift in the South Pacific.
Professor Mackey, who is managing director of the Lions Eye Institute which carried out the study, said Norfolk Island was unique because almost half the islanders could trace their ancestry back to the original Pitcairn population of nine British mutineers, 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men.
He said nearly 800 of the island's 1200 inhabitants took part in the study.
The researchers could not conclude why the levels of myopia were different but said further study might help identify genes that differed between Bounty descendants and other islanders, given they had similar exposure to sunlight.
A lack of sunlight is thought to be related to myopia.
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