The title might give you one eye-dea about today’s topic – yup, we’re talking about cyclopia! Our fun-loving, larger-than-life, mono-ophthalmic monster buddies were first written about by the ancient Greeks, and later adopted by the Romans.
The origins of the cyclops myth has been the subject of much discussion. Some suggest that the Greeks might have stumbled across the fossilised skulls of prehistoric dwarf elephants, and these creatures being extinct and unfamiliar to them, mistaken the schnozz-socket for a single giant eye.
Others think that the Greeks had actually seen cyclopes in the flesh. A couple of rare developmental problems can result only one eye: in true cyclopia, only one eye is formed, whereas in synophtalmia, there may be two eyes which fuse.
The Sonic Hedgehog and Pax6 genes are involved in properly dividing the embryonic brain (and extensions from it, such as the eyes) into two separate hemispheres. There are several things that interfere with this process and so cause cyclopia, including certain drugs, viruses, genetic defects, and radiation. Alkaloid toxins in plants are also a culprit. In fact, ancient Greeks used some of these plants medicinally, and perhaps as a result, did see ‘real’ cyclopes…
Elephants and cyclopes also have another thing in common. Interestingly (or maybe morbidly), some cyclopes develop a tube-like structure instead of a nose, which is called a proboscis because it resembles a tiny trunk.