Genetics of Double Eyelashes

Ever wonder why Elizabeth Taylor had such compelling eyes? It turns out that she probably carried a mutation for doubled eyelashes, also known as distichiasis.[article]

This article explains the genetic mutation that causes double lashes. Learn how to check your genetic data to see if you carry the mutation – and how this mutation can also lead to lymphedema and heart failure.

Distichiasis: Double Eyelashes

Being born with double eyelashes is caused by a mutation in the FOXC2 gene.

The FOX (forkhead box) family of genes codes for a type of protein known as a transcription factor.  This type of protein turns on and off genes during development as well as during cellular replication. Some of the FOX genes are important for longevity.

The FOXC2 gene turns genes on and off during prenatal development.

Specifically, the development of the kidneys and early development of the heart utilize FOXC2. It is particularly important for the development of the valves in the lymphatic system.[ref][ref]

So what do lymphatic valves and heart development have to do with double eyelashes? 

The mutation in the FOXC2 gene causes a double row of lashes to form during the baby’s development. It turns on excess transcription for eyelash development.

This mutation can also cause droopy eyelids and yellowish nails.

Additionally, the FOXC2 mutation causes a predisposition to lymphedema (swelling of the arms and legs) and an increased risk of congestive heart failure.[ref]

Sadly, the poster-child of double lashes, Elizabeth Taylor,  died of congestive heart failure.

Related article: Longevity genes and FOXO3A

How rare is a double set of eyelashes?

The FOXC2 mutations are rare enough that the mutations are not found in large genetic samples of most population groups. For most mutations, an allele frequency is calculated in different populations, but this information isn’t available for the FOXC2 mutations.  The raredisease.org website also states that the prevalence of lymphedema-distichiasis is unknown. [ref]

Note that people can have thick eyelashes without having a double row of lashes.


Genetic variants that cause double lashes:

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FOXC2 gene:

Check your genetic data for rs121909106 (23andme i5002816 v4; AncestryDNA):

  • C/C: normal
  • C/T:  double lash mutation[ref] increased risk of lymphedema

Members: Your genotype for rs121909106 or i5002816 is .

Check your genetic data for rs121909107 (AncestryDNA only):

  • G/G: normal
  • A/G: double lash mutation, increased risk of lymphedema[ref][ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs121909107 is .

 

What about more common variants?

A common variant in the FOXC2 gene doesn’t give you double lashes, but it is linked to lymphatic drainage and vericose veins.

Check your genetic data for rs34221221 (23andMe v4, AncestryDNA):

  • C/C: typical
  • C/T: increased risk of cardiovascular disease and varicose veins
  • T/T: increased risk of cardiovascular disease and hypoplastic right heart syndrome[ref][ref]

Members: Your genotype for rs34221221 is .


Lifehacks:

Double lashes? Talk with your cardiologist.
The increased risk for lymphedema can increase the risk of congestive heart failure.  If you have double eyelashes, talk with your doctor to see if this is a risk factor for you.

If you weren’t born with double lashes, you can always add some fake lashes:-) I think Elizabeth Taylor would approve.

Recap of your genes:


Related Articles and Topics

Dyslexia – Genetic Connections
Several genetic variants contribute to the reading difficulties in dyslexia. Environmental factors, such as chronic stress, combine with dyslexia genes.

Trimethylaminuria: Genetic variants that cause a malodorous body odor
Often referred to as ‘fish odor disease’, trimethylaminuria causes a strong odor in sweat, urine, and breath. It is caused by mutations in the FMO3 gene.

ABCC11 gene: Ear wax and no body odor
The ABCC11 gene determines both the type of earwax a person has and whether they have no armpit or body odor.

 


About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.