Most people take nearsightedness, or myopia, for what it is — and deal with it by donning a pair of fashionable glasses, getting fitted for contact lenses or getting Lasik surgery.
Dr. Ohad Birk and his team of genetics researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the other hand, have wanted to know exactly why so many of us cannot see things that are far away. It is well known that myopia, the most common eye disorder, is caused by light being focused in front of the retina instead of on it. Scientists and lay observers have also long observed that there is a hereditary component to nearsightedness. Now, the BGU researchers are the first to have determined the exact gene responsible for the disorder.
The discovery, made during a study led by Shikma Levin and Dr. Libe Gradstein from Birk’s team, was published on September 1 in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The scientists studied severe early-onset myopia among members of a certain Bedouin tribe living in the Negev. Genetic research results from this endogamous sample, together with related research on insect cells done in collaboration with a Finnish research group, led to the discovery that a mutation in the LEPREL 1 gene is responsible for the disorder.