Conditions

None of my family is colorblind in the last 3 generations, except me (I am male). I believe that it’s a genetic mutation that just happened to make me colorblind. Is this the most likely explanation?

-A high school student from the UK

March 23, 2018

 

The quick answer is that you most likely got your colorblindness from your mom. And she got the DNA for colorblindness from her mom. And so on.

Had you been a female, then we might have to say that you are colorblind because of a new change in your , a . But since you are male, the most likely explanation is that it came from mom.

This is because she most likely has the bit of DNA that leads to colorblindness, even though she is not colorblind herself. She is a for colorblindness.

So why are you colorblind and your mom isn’t? The reason has to do with where the bit of DNA that causes colorblindness is located.

There are 4 key things you need to know:

  • The DNA that leads to colorblindness is located on the X
  • Biological males have one X and one Y (XY)
  • Biological females have two X’s (XX)
  • To be colorblind, all your X’s have to have the colorblind DNA

What this all means is that it is easier for men to be colorblind than women. And that women who aren’t colorblind can have kids who are.

Here are the possible combinations for a biological female:

Here, the X chromosome that can cause colorblindness is shown in red. As you can see, it is only when both X’s are red that she is colorblind.

The same is not true for biological males.

As biological males only have one copy of the X chromosome, they only need one colorblind X to be colorblind. Because of this, men are much more likely to be colorblind than women.

Since you are male, you got a Y from your father, and an X from your mother. As the colorblind DNA is on the X chromosome, it must have come from your mother.

Since your mom isn’t colorblind and you are, she most likely has one X that can lead to colorblindness and one that does not. She isn’t colorblind but can pass it to her kids. She is a carrier.

So where did her colorblind DNA come from? She inherited two X chromosomes from her parents, one from her mom and one from her dad.

Let’s consider your grandfather first. As a man, he has one X and one Y. Since you know he has normal color vision, he must not have the colorblind DNA. He has a black X:

What about your grandmother? As a woman, she has two X chromosomes (XX). Since she has normal color vision, she must have at least one non-colorblind version. However, since your mom is likely a carrier, her mom probably is too. This means she has one colorblind X that she passed on to your mom.

So your colorblindness is not a random mutation, but actually from your mother and grandmother (and maybe your great-grandmother and so on!).

 

By Dr. Abbey Thompson, Stanford University


Here is how people with different types of colorblindness see the world. Clockwise from top left: "Normal" vision, green-blindness (deuteranopia), red-blindness (protanopia), and blue-blindness (tritanopia).


Even the American flag looks different if you are colorblind!