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A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Multifactorial Traits: Asian Eye Shape

A Simple Technical Paper

Presented to
Charisse Mae R. Ibaez
Faculty of the Natural Sciences Department
School of Arts and Sciences
Ateneo de Zamboanga University
Zamboanga City, Philippines

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements of Bio231
Long Exam # 2
Human Genetics

Betlee Ian T. Barraquias Jr
BS Biology III A

A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Multifactorial Traits: Asian Eye Shape

Betlee Ian T. Barraquias Jr.

Chapter I: Introduction
A. Background of the Study
B. Objectives
C. Significance of the Study

Chapter II: Discussion and Review of Related Literature

A. The Original Homo sapiens
B. Migration and Differentiation
C. Asian Eye Shape: Epicanthic Folds

Chapter III: Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendation


Personal Note:
This paper focuses on the evolutionary significance of Asian eye shape. By that, it
already assumes that Asian eye shape is a multifactorial trait since it is shaped by
In evolution, the environment influences the traits of an individual, therefore, by that
alone, distinctive traits of races such as Asians are a consequence of many factors
besides their genetic makeup.

Chapter I
Variation in physical morphologies and traits among races has always been a subject of
interest among scientists. Questions and speculations on how certain morphologies
came to be are asked in the light of multiple scientific disciplines such as genetics and
evolution. As structure leads to function, the evolutionary significance and the
knowledge of underlying mechanisms on how these morphologies are modified are
drawn out as an explanation to the phenomena.
Certain physical characteristics, or phenotypes, are expressed depending on the
genetic makeup, or genotype, of an organism. However, phenotypes are not merely a
consequence of an organisms genetic makeup, but they are a consequence of the
interactions within the organisms genotype and the environment (Hotep, 2000).
As distinctive physical variation among races is observed, it is speculated that these
variations are mainly influenced by the environment they live in. One such distinctive
group is the Asians, in which they are identified in terms of their distinctive set of traits.
Asians generally exhibit an almond shaped eye. However, it is not exactly the shape of
the eyes that varies, but what give it its appearance are the folds of skin covering the
inner corner of the eye, or the epicanthic folds (Barker, et. al., 2001; Pitt, 2013).
Moreover, epicanthic folds, in actuality, are present in all humans as they are born and
are just lost during growth (Barker, et. al., 2001). The conservation of these folds among
Asians are said to have an evolutionary significance. However, there are limited
literatures that details as to why this structure is conserved. So, in this connection, this
paper seeks to:
1. briefly tackle about the origin of modern humans and the cause of variation;
2. investigate the evolutionary significance and conservation of epicanthic folds
among Asians; and
3. integrate multidisciplinary approaches such as evolution and genetics in
explaining the eye shape that occurs among Asians.

Significance of the Study

Literatures regarding the evolutionary divergence among races have limited focus on
the conservation of the epicanthic fold among Asians. As there is limited available
literature regarding this phenomenon in evolution, this paper would contribute to the
body of knowledge regarding the Asian epicanthic folds, its evolutionary significance,
and its drivers toward evolution (i.e. genetic and environmental factors).

Chapter II
Review of Related Literature and Discussions
The Original Homo sapiens
There are two prevailing theories in paleoanthropology that explains the origin of H.
sapiens: The Recent African Origin theory (RAO, also known in many names such as
the Recent Single-Origin Hypothesis, RSOH; African Replacement Hypothesis, ARH,
and; Out-of-Africa Theory, OOA) and the multiregional origin theory (Johanson, 2001).
However, RAO has become the most widely accepted model of the geographic origin of
H. sapiens as recent genetic studies along with fossil evidence supported the RAO
theory, where it describes that it is in Africa where the first H. sapiens appeared. These
studies further support the RAO theory with their findings that evolution of archaic H.
sapiens to anatomically modern humans occurred solely in Africa (Johanson, 2001).

Migration and Differentiation

Early anatomically modern humans first appeared in Eastern Africa. These archaic
humans have their own distinctive set of traits that serve to be adaptations to their
environment. However, as phenomena such as global cooling, global warming, and
increase of population occurred, bands of these archaic humans have begun migrating
to neighboring regions (Hotep, 2000; Pakistan Defence, 2014).
The migration exposed these bands to different environments that consequently altered
their traits. Their characteristics, overtime, changed and evolved in such a way that they
are well suited to their new environment through the process of natural selection (Hotep,
2000; Pakistan Defence, 2014).
Dr. Joshua Akey, Geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle in Wade (2013),
further explained, integrating genetics, that this migration or dispersion caused mutation
of genes where the mutations are favored by natural selection. Unfavorable mutations
tend to not be passed on, while those favorable mutations are passed on by means of
natural selection.

Asian Eye Shape: Epicanthic Folds

Asian ancestors are believed to have originated in northern Asia where they suffered
harsh snow storms, and extreme sunlight. Ancient Asians have developed certain

characteristics to adapt to these harsh environments. One of these adaptations includes

the epicanthic folds that give them the almond shaped eye (Pitt, 2013).
However, the epicanthic fold is not limited to Asians. It is in fact a trait of all races. It is
not observed in other races since it is only a trait of newborns, which disappears with
growth (Barker, et. al, 2001).
However, Asians have conserved this pedomorphic trait. According to most literatures,
the epicanthic fold has an evolutionary significance that helps adapt to environments
that have large seasonal swings in temperature, dry and cold winters, hot bright
summers and dust wherein they function to protect the eyes from extreme sunlight, cold
weather, and dust (Suresh, & Ward, 2014, in Pitt 2013).
Furthermore, the epicanthic folds are not actually very pronounced in all Asians. The
trait stems from eastern Asian origin in Mongolia, where the weather conditions were
very cold and harsh, and there was an extreme exposure of sunlight due to light
reflected by the snow. Asians in the south of Eastern Asia tend to get rounder eyes and
there is less pronunciation of the epicanthic fold due to warmer climates (Suresh 2014,
in Pitt 2013).
Dr. Poirier, physical anthropologist at Ohio State University, as cited in New York Times
(1985), says that epicanthic folds are an adaptation to tropical and artic regions where
they serve to function as sun visor against overexposure to ultraviolet radiation and as a
blanket insulating against cold. He also attributed the fold to pleiotropic genes, where
single genes control more than one characteristic function. Pleiotropic genes generally
have a masking effect on other gene expression. However, Dr. Poirier did not give much
detail on the pleiotropic genes that affect the eye shape, only that his studies reveal that
Asian eye shape may be influenced by pleiotropic genes.
Pepke (2013) in Pitt (2013) further added and supported Dr. Poiriers speculation on
Asian eye shape. He described that the epicanthic fold tends to appear in people with
flat nose bridge which suggests that the epicanthic fold trait is polygenic; meaning that
the trait is affected by multiple genes, in which case, may include the gene for nose
bridge. Pepke (2013) further cited his observation on the noses of newborns with
apparent epicanthic folds. He reported that epicanthic folds that appear in most infants
of all races disappear as they grow due to their growing nose. Since Asians have small
or flat nose bridges, this may most probably account for the conservation of epicanthic
However, other non-natural selection and genetic view on the conservation of epicanthic
folds is cited by Ward (2012) and Hotep (2000). They explained that the evolution is not
merely caused by the continentality, but by its combination with sexual selection
according to neoteny (evolutionary trend where juvenile characteristics are retained in

adults of a species). They described that sexual selection played a role in the
conservation of the pedomorphic trait, the epicanthic folds. They explained that smaller,
almond shaped eyes, at one point, are perceived to signify beauty. This, concomitantly,
attracts more mates for the proliferation and conservation of the gene.
Moreover, Ward (2012), and Deventer (2012) added that the conservation of the trait is
also influenced by culture. Culture and norms might have limited the mate selection
where impregnation happens between relatives, or between peoples of the same race.

Chapter III
Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendation

The most accepted model of archaic modern human origin is the Recent African Origin
theory. This theory describes, as its name suggests, that archaic humans first appeared
in eastern Africa. These people migrated and dispersed to neighboring regions,
exposing themselves to new environment, and consequently to evolution.
Evolution is driven by natural selection where favorable mutated genes caused by the
new environment are selected and conserved within a population.
Asian ancestry can be stemmed from people who have dispersed or migrated to
northern Asia who faced new, cold, and harsh environments. This has driven the
modification of genes for adaptation, which consequently altered their morphology.
One distinct trait they possess is the conservation of pedomorphic epicanthic folds.
These folds have their evolutionary significance in their functions where they serve to
protect the eyes from the harsh weather, sunlight, and cold (insulation). It is also
speculated that the trait is not merely a consequence of a mutation of a single gene, but
multiple genes. Furthermore, it is also noted that the genetic makeup and its interaction
with the environment does not solely account for the Asian eye shape morphism. It was
explained that factors such as sexual selection and culture may have played a role in
the conservation of the trait.

The paper has met its objectives in (1) briefly tackling about the origin of modern
humans, and the cause of variation, (2) investigating the evolutionary significance and
conservation of epicanthic folds among Asians; and (3) integrating multidisciplinary
approaches such as evolution, and genetics in explaining the eye shape that occurs
among Asians. The accomplishments of the paper are reflected in the summary and
chapter II of the paper.

This paper has its weakness due to limited literatures on the subject.

Issues on Race
Although it is a fact that human biological diversity and its pattern of variation is
apparently distinct by the groupings we call races, the scientific community has not yet
come into a consensus whether race is natural or just a societal human construct which
do not mirror biological reality (Morning, 2004).
This paper has not thoroughly discussed the issue about races, and did not consider its
issues. It has assumed the natural view, where race is considered a biological
phenomenon where each race is a subpopulation of distinctive traits
So, in connection to this, it is recommended that a study on this should be made to be
integrated in this paper to clear out terminology misconceptions.

Potential Questions
This simple paper did not indulge in answering potential questions as it is focused on its
objectives alone. One such example is the mechanism of neoteny, as to why
pedomorphic traits are found attractive at a certain time. Though it can be answered by
the researcher, but it is deemed unnecessary considering the objectives of the paper.
However, such answers can be integrated in the discussion to increase further
understanding on the whys and hows of the subject.

In Depth Literature in Certain Disciplines

The researcher wanted to integrate technical genetic studies on the factors that affect
Asian eye shape. However, there was very limited to no literature on the genetic
influences on morphologies. Hence, it is recommended in the future, in case of further
improvement of this paper, that this part shall be integrated.

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