The Inheritance of Eye Color
It is commonly thought that eye color is inherited in a simple dominant/recessive manner. Brown eyes are considered dominant over blue eyes. The real pattern of inheritance, however, is considerably more complicated than this. Eye color is determined by the amount of a brown pigment, known as melanin, present in the iris of the eye. If there is a large quantity of melanin present on the anterior surface of the iris, the eyes are dark. Black eyes have a greater quantity of melanin than brown eyes.
If a large amount of melanin is not present on the anterior surface of the iris, the eyes will appear blue, not because of a blue pigment but because blue light is returned from the iris (see illustration). The iris appears blue for the same reason that deep bodies of water tend to appear blue. There is no blue pigment in the water, but blue wavelengths of light are returned to the eye from the water. People appear to have blue eyes because the blue wavelengths of light are reflected from the iris.
Just as black and brown eyes are determined by the amount of pigment present, colors such as green, gray, and hazel are produced by the various amounts of melanin in the iris. If a very small amount of brown melanin is present in the iris, the eye tends to appear green, whereas relatively large amounts of melanin produce hazel eyes.
Several different genes are probably involved in determining the quantity and placement of the melanin and, therefore, in determining eye color. These genes interact in such a way that a wide range of eye color is possible. Eye color is probably determined by polygenic inheritance, just as skin color and height are. Some newborn babies have blue eyes that later become brown. This is because they have not yet begun to produce melanin in their irises at the time of birth.