Natural eyebrow shape is genetic – study

Numerous people, especially actresses and other female celebrities, have been recognized as having “iconic eyebrows”. These include Marlene Dietrich, Frido Kahlo, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Brooke Shields and Madonna.

Cosmetics, including eye pencils, eye shadows or powders, can help you create your look, but according to a new study conducted by the International Visible Trait Genetics Consortium (VisiGen) and published as a letter to the editor of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Under the heading “Genome-wide association studies identify DNA variants affecting eyebrow thickness variation in European and continental populations,” the shape of your natural eyebrows is in your genes.

The first gene mapping study on eyebrow thickness in Europeans uncovered three previously unreported genetic loci and showed that eyebrow appearance has partly the same and partly different underlying genes in people from different parts of the world.

The look of human eyebrows isn’t just a matter of grooming, it’s in the genes. Eyebrow thickness, like any other aesthetic trait, is highly heritable. Until now, genetic knowledge of eyebrow thickness was very limited and limited exclusively to non-Europeans. This study is the first genome-wide association study of eyebrow thickness in Europeans. By identifying new genes and rediscovering some of the previously identified genes in non-Europeans, the study expands genetic knowledge on human eyebrow variation, which is of wide interest and has implications for dermatology and other fields.

Sample images illustrating eyebrow thickness classified into three categories, namely 0-thin, 1-intermediate and 2-thick (credit: Journal of Investigative Dermatology)

Eyebrow thickness among Europeans has never been reported

Previous studies have been conducted among Latino and Chinese individuals, establishing four genetic loci associated with eyebrow thickness. Since no European eyebrow thickness had been reported, the researchers did not know whether the genetic effects of eyebrow thickness described in non-Europeans persisted in Europeans or whether there were specific European genetic loci involved in eyebrow thickness, or both.

Lead researcher Prof. Manfred Kayser from the Department of Genetic Identification at Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who is chair of the consortium, commented: ‘Despite immense efforts in mapping the genes underlying complex human traits, we know “even more about the genes that make us sick than the ones behind our healthy appearance. We have discovered new genes involved in eyebrow variation in Europeans and rediscovered some of the previously identified genes in non-Europeans.”

The study of nearly 10,000 individuals from four European ancestry groups not only uncovered three previously unreported genetic loci associated with eyebrow thickness, but also rediscovered two of the four genetic loci previously found in non-Europeans.

Kayser concluded that “our study significantly improves the genetic understanding of human eyebrow appearance by increasing the number of known genes from four to seven and provides new targets for future functional studies. Having demonstrated that eyebrow variation is driven by genetic factors shared and distinct among continental populations, our findings underscore the need to study populations of diverse origins to unravel the genetic basis of human traits, including, but not limited to, physical appearance.

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