“His twin’s very existence refuted a concept dear to him: his sense of his own uniqueness”. Susan Dominus, NY Times
Last month an article was published in the New York Timesand was quickly syndicated around the world. Two sets of identical twins were split in a hospital mix up in Columbia, resulting in two families each taking home a set of fraternal twins.
Not only did this mix up have ramifications for the twins themselves, it also provided a rare opportunity to explore how their story offers a fascinating insight into twin research.
Dr Nancy Segal is a psychologist renowned for her work involving twins, particularly with those raised apart. She considers twins to be “scientific treasures….because just by acting naturally in different research contexts, twins tell us so much about human behaviour and how we got that way”. The ATR was lucky enough to have Dr Segal as a keynote speaker at our conference, Healthier Kids, held back in December where she discussed her research on twins reared apart.
Dr Segal was intrigued by the story of the mixed up twins of Bogota as they offered a rare opportunity to study nature versus nurture first hand. She visited the Columbian homes of both twins to ask questions about their lives, families and education. Dr Segal hopes to write a new book about their experiences, exploring how after 27 years apart they are ‘identical but different’.
The ATR’s Deputy Director A/Prof Jeff Craig is also fascinated by this notion and, like Dr Segal, features in the NYT article after she asked him to analyse the epigenetics of the Bogota twins, using saliva swabs she took during her visit.
As an epigeneticist at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, A/Prof Craig analysed the twins’ epigenetic profiles and was keen to determine who would be more alike – the twins raised together, or those raised apart. Unfortunately it is difficult to draw conclusions from such a small sample but it was surprising how unalike the identical twins were on a number of traits. Dr Segal reports that she came away with a renewed respect for the role our environment plays in shaping who we are and what we become.
A/Prof Craig, along with other epigeneticists, is trying to understand how environmental influences change us and what mechanisms can make that change happen. Twins are perfectly positioned to help us learn more about the impact of heredity and environment – and how we can potentially improve health outcomes for us all.
To read the article in full please visit the New York Times
Photo: image credit – NY Times