Descendants of the famed mutineers of the British ship HMS Bounty have some of the lowest rates of myopia in the world. New research suggests they could help unlock the genetic code for the disease.
| Photo: HMS Bounty Organization LLC
The Norfolk Island Eye Study examined eye problems in descendants of the Bounty sailors and their Polynesian wives who settled at Pitcairn Island after the mutiny in 1789, and later moved to Norfolk Island. Almost half the islanders can trace their ancestry back to the original Pitcairn population of just nine British mutineers, 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men.
“We found the rate of…myopia [among the Pitcairn descendants] is approximately one-half that of the Australian population, and as a result would be ranked among one of the lowest rates in the world,” says David Mackey, M.D., of the Centre for Eye Research Australia. By contrast, other Norfolk Island residents had approximately the same rate of myopia as the Australian population.
Genetic differences in the island’s inhabitants could lead to breakthroughs in the causes of myopia, which is increasing in prevalence in Australia, Dr. Mackey says. Future studies may allow for the identification of genes that differ between the two populations.