Citizen Scientists Look into Nearsightedness

Editor’s note: PloS Genetics just published Amy Kiefer and Nick Eriksson’s work. Check out their paper here. Nearsightedness, a condition in which far-away objects look blurry, is a problem of endemic proportions — approximately 30-40 percent of adults in the United States are nearsighted.  And, as computers and cellphones (which train our eyes to focus on short distances) play an ever-increasing role in our lives, we can only expect that this number will grow. One study in the United States highlights the rising rates of nearsightedness. These researchers found that in the early 1970’s, approximately 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 54 were nearsighted, but thirty years later that number had skyrocketed to 42 percent.

While it’s been clear that genetics play an important role in nearsightedness, until this month relatively little was known about which genes are involved. Two large studies on nearsightedness, however, have recently shed light on the subject. One of these studies was conducted by the 23andMe research team under the leadership of Amy Kiefer and Nick Eriksson.

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After analyzing genetic data and survey responses from over 45,000 23andMe members, we identified 22 genetic associations for nearsightedness in people with European ancestry, and we confirmed about half of these associations using data from a separate group of customers.

Adding even more support for these findings, many of our associations were confirmed by another large, independent nearsightedness study, which was accepted for publication shortly after our own study was.

One of the associations confirmed by this second study was near the gene LAMA2. LAMA2 encodes a protein important for the development of different eye structures. Our strongest association was with a genetic variant called rs12193446. We found that in individuals with European ancestry, the G version at this SNP was associated with lower risk of nearsightedness.  About 24 percent of people with European ancestry have this version of rs12193446. The other study also independently found that genetic variation near the LAMA2 gene was associated with nearsightedness.

You can find out more on our nearsightedness findings in our paper recently published in PLoS Genetics.

This research is another example of how you don’t have to wear a white jacket anymore to contribute to scientific findings. Over 50 thousand 23andMe members donated their time (by answering surveys) towards these nearsightedness findings, an act which was pretty farsighted of them.

Together we’re making a difference, one discovery at a time.

Not yet a 23andMe customer? For only $99 you can gain access to genetic information about your health and ancestry, as well as participate in research projects such as this one. Visit our store!


  • Richard Lubbock

    At present I’m not really very interested interested in all this, but I check in from time to time to just to see what’s up. Bye bye for now. (RL)

  • Altorfer

    In few days means on Friday!

    • Altorfer

      Are you going to update these SNPs in the nearsightedness trait?

  • Steve

    I’m nearsighted in 1 eye… and AA

    • Maryjom

      Me too, Steve. Nearsighted in one eye and AA!

  • Catharine

    It’s funny. I’m AA and nearsighted, but both my parents were farsighted.

  • BB

    I’m AA and I’m farsighted (well now that I’m well over 50 I’m also presbyopic which is a real irritation, I used to be able to at least focus at infinity without my glasses, not anymore.). My wife is also AA and one of my daughters is also farsighted. The other is normal.

  • http://blogs.nimblebrain.net Ritchie Annand

    There’s an interesting meta-study around of environmental factors, a lot of it centered on “nearwork” and “farwork”, the former consisting of things like reading, doing homework, close crafting (e.g. Mo Henry, the quintessential negative cutter, is legally blind in one eye, ostensibly from the work itself.).

    The studies they collated cross-checked type of vision correction, whether the vision correction was changed between nearwork and farwork, and what type of longer-term vision prognosis resulted. On the top of the list were reading glasses (a.k.a. “plus” glasses) for nearwork and no glasses for farwork (wearing reading glasses all the time was not as good) and rigid gas-permeable contact lenses (soft lenses were almost as bad as distance glasses, a.k.a. “minus” glasses)

    The latter intrigued me, since my first pair of contact lenses were rigid gas-permeable after having worn distance glasses for years and years with slowly worsening eyesight. I thought I had just finally grown out of that phase, but perhaps not.

    The explanation proffered was that as the eye grows, it does not grow completely to a pre-set pattern, but rather uses some indication of where the focus is falling on the retina (mechanism unknown, I believe) to determine how much to elongate.

    I wonder if the LAMA2 gene is involved in that determination of eye elongation…

    (I wish I still had the link for that meta-study. If I find it again, I will post it. I am also going to try – with my kids’ cooperation – fomenting a habit of using reading glasses for reading and study to see whether my five-year-old, who can read things really clearly close and at distance, can avoid the same decaying eyesight that both of his parents have :) )

  • Ian

    So when are where does this sort of new research appear on the app or the website?
    On the app, new and updated results never seems to change.

  • George Kassing

    I’m 76 now and have always been far sighted and nearsighted until I was 44. The I suddenly discovered that I had to hold things at arm length. I developed some asigmatism in my right eye.
    When I first enlisted into the Navy, I was tested with a better than 20/10 vision. I could also read a 1 inch bible setting on my nose.
    I still have a 20/20 vision but wear glasses to correct for the astigmatism. I also use reading glasses when I do a lot of reading or working on something close.

  • Diane Gugger

    How much research has been done on the percentage of people who are long-sighted..? I am very long-sighted and as age creeps on, it has proved difficult at times to correct this. The very best solution has been contact lenses all the time , with glasses when needed for close work, such as reading and patchwork, etc.
    I would be interested in any comments as it seems the world is mostly designed for short-sighted people.!!

  • Martha

    I’m AA and also nearsighted in one eye. When young, I had excellent far-sighted vision, but apparently I was farsighted in one eye only. I’ve previously asked 23andme to look into convergence disorders, which affect about 3% of the population.

  • Miguel

    Im AG and im nearsightness, but then i the G allelle dominant?

  • Linda Russel

    Extremely nearsighted with astigmatism as well.

  • Virginia L. Calhoun

    Hello I’m so nearsighted in my right eye its no joke

  • http://yalb.net Alex Chekholko

    “And, as computers and cellphones (which train our eyes to focus on short distances) play an ever-increasing role in our lives, we can only expect that this number will grow. ”

    I dislike that sentence, mostly because it’s false.

    If there was a way to “train” your eyes, you wouldn’t need to wear glasses.

  • Chet Roskey

    I am of Eastern European ancestry and I developed nearsightedness when I was in my mid 50′s.

  • Jacob LaFountaine

    I’m an AA and have been nearsighted in both eyes for decades.

  • Antony

    I am excited to see new research around this, but would be even happier if there is a reversal solution around that can correct the vision without resorting to LASIK treatment.

    One complaint about 23andMe is that most of these research apply to European descents…so I guess for other ethnic group…paying the $99 is pretty much “take one for the team,” with slim hope of research coverage.

  • Larry Kimbrough

    Have been nearsighted since early high school.

  • Rick

    I’m nearsighted, have been since my mid 20s. How do I “see” if my profile fits your research?

  • David

    “And, as computers and cellphones (which train our eyes to focus on short distances) play an ever-increasing role in our lives, we can only expect that this number will grow.”

    What does this mean? It sounds like you’re saying that if we don’t practice looking at far away things, we get worse at it, which I’m not sure is true.

  • Douglas Griffeth

    I was farsighted all through childhood, then became nearsighted at about age 12. Retinal detachments occurred in both eyes at age ~62, and after cataract surgery, with the implanted lens, I have 20/15 vision.

  • Conrad Huss

    Never was nearsighted.At 69 I still have 20/20 vision. When I was younger, it was 20/15.

  • http://pavellas.com Ron Pavellas

    I was found nearsighted at age 9. My sister (only sib) also. Neither of our parents was nearsighted. None of my five children wore glasses at an early age like I and my sister did.The two mothers of these five were/are both far-sighted.

  • http://yahoo Joyce Slatner

    I am of European descent. I had difficulty reading signs and seeing distant objects until I was about 55. I work with computers and I have astigmatism in both eyes. I did not wear glasses except for driving. I have not needed glasses since the age of 55. I have a complete eye exam yearly by a physicain. He just says, sometimes this happens. I am 67, do not need glasses and I can spot birds, nests, animals from quite a distance which always surprises everyone around me. I hope my eyes stay this good for a long time.

  • Daniela

    Here I am: AA, nearsighted, Italian
    Great job as usual, 23&me!
    Let’s share data, DNA, info and keep on “sciencing” together

  • http://abnormaldiversity.blogspot.com Ettina

    What about farsightedness?

    My whole family wears glasses – father and brother farsighted, mother and me nearsighted.

  • http://www.slywy.com Diane

    Do you mean “epidemic” vs. “endemic” proportions?

  • Jim

    If can it help your research; Yes, I am nearsighted. Minus 13.5 grind to attain 20-25 vision. Further correction not available.

  • http://www.threepee.ca Hugh Baker

    I have been diagnosed as near-sighted all my life, but in fact I have astygmatism and amblyopia with failure to develop stereoscopic vision. I asked my ophthalmologist about contacts for driving and he said “just take you glasses off!”

  • http://www.wisedanes.com Kyrie Smith

    Interesting. I have 6 profiles on 23and me. 2 of them are nearsighted, both of those are AA. 5 in all are AA. My father would have been AA since both of his parents are, but he had perfect vision until he got older. And, I do mean excellent. He did become farsighted with age. As did the 3 AA profiles not nearsighted.

    My husband is the only GG. His mom and sister need glasses for reading, and his dad and brother wear them all of the time.

  • Jean Benitz

    I could read signs, menus and books with no trouble until I was about 52 then quite suddenly menus and
    phone books etc. including computer screens required reading glasses. Two years ago I needed distance glasses – for driving etc. not very strong. I am 81. I guess I’ve been lucky.

  • Margie

    I’m fairly nearsighted (my contacts say -3.50 and I couldn’t drive without corrective lenses). My genotype is AG and my husband’s is AA and less nearsighted than I am. Not only that, we have three children- two of which don’t have to wear glasses and one who is farsighted. So I’m thinking there must be other genes or environmental factors involved. Both my siblings have had to wear glasses as well. It’d be interesting to see more eyesight affecting genes.

  • Mandi

    That’s so great that you guys are helping in genetics research! I am also of European decent and have nearsightedness, along with my dad too. Thank you for contributing to this research, you guys are doing so much in the efforts of research and genetics!
    Mandi

  • Joan

    I became nearsighted after a bout of measles. I was made to stay in a semi-dark room for two weeks, but given books to read during the second week. I was too sick to do anything the first week.
    I hope you are considering illness and incorrect treatment for at least some of the cause of nearsightedness.

  • Paula

    Years ago I read that Israeli scientists had found an association between nearsightedness & intelligence. Being very nearsighted, I’ve been lording it over normal-sighted friends & relatives, in hopes of getting some good out of the condition. Have you found any association in 23andMe’s data?

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