Five things research from twins taught us about health, behavior and what makes us unique


Credits: Keisha Montfleury / Unsplash

Researchers often compare the differences between identical twins and dizygotic twins for a better understanding of health and behavior.

The first major insight is that genes and the environment almost always combine to influence the trajectory of our lives. Sometimes the biggest factor is genetics (think of hereditary diseases). Sometimes it’s the environment (think infectious diseases). Most of the time, it’s somewhere in between.

Such studies have accelerated the search for genes and environmental factors that cause or cause disease. This helped us understand, treat, and even prevent the disease.Like a twin study matured, Began to address important questions about when and how illnesses occur.

So what did twin studies teach us about certain illnesses and the human body?

1. Smoking increases the risk of fractures

Most studies linking the environment to illness Genetic factors.. To avoid this, you can work with twins with different environmental factors.

One of such Australian studies since 1994 We compared 20 pairs of female twins, where only one of each pair was a long-term heavy smoker.

Researchers have found that smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years can cause osteoporosis by reducing bone density sufficiently. This doubled the risk of fractures.

This provided compelling evidence that smoking causes osteoporosis and increases the risk of fractures.

2. Events before and after birth are not the main cause of epilepsy

Epilepsy is a group of disorders in which brain activity is abnormal and seizures are the main feature. Traditionally, diagnosis was not possible until after the first seizure of a person who could occur at any stage of life, from babies to the elderly.

Twin study Since the 1960s, a mixture of genes and the environment has been shown to cause epilepsy. However, until the early 1990s, problems during childbirth were considered to be the main cause of epilepsy.

Obstetricians and midwives were often accused of causing epilepsy. However, Twin study In 1993, he did not support a link between minor problems during childbirth and subsequent onset of epilepsy.

This information helps doctors and their patients better understand the causes of epilepsy and is not necessarily responsible for the childbirth process.

3. The same twins are different under the skin than before birth

Genetically Identical twins In most cases it looks the same. Still, at birth, they have already accumulated differences in the structure and function of their genes.

They are difference It is caused by a combination of accidental events and individual experiences in the womb.

The location where the fertilized egg is transplanted into the uterus is random, but there are also suitable locations for growth. For a subset of identical twins that split before reaching the uterus, different locations have different environments in which the baby grows.

As a result of this or other accidental event, about 1 in 6 twins differ by more than 20% in birth weight, which may be associated with an increase. Danger Especially for small twins, of illness at birth.

Such individual experiences also help explain a pair of Brazilian twins who were born with only one child. Zika virus infection.

4. Leukemia occurs before birth

Changes in the gene sequence of blood cells can make people more likely to develop leukemia (cancer of the blood).

Although such changes are unique to each person when These changes happened to people who were once mysterious.It ’s the same twin kids Found in leukemia It originates from the same cell.

Lymphocytes (white blood cells) in the immune system randomly shuffle immune genes, making each person genetically unique and even the same twin.

researcher Conclusion Leukemia began in one twin in the uterus and spread to the other twin through blood vessels in the shared placenta.

However, although the first step towards leukemia took place before birth, cancer progression was different between twins, and leukemia was diagnosed at different ages.

This provided initial evidence that some leukemias could be dormant for years, enabling future research to identify events along this process.

5. Many twins do not know if they are the same or siblings

Identic twins begin as a single fertilized egg that divides after a few days. They share almost 100% of their DNA and are almost always of the same gender.

Dizygotic twins arise from two eggs fertilized at about the same time. They are genetically different, just like a pair of siblings, and can have the same or different genders.

2012, my colleague and I Twins Research Australia At twin festivals across the country, I studied uncertain pairs of genetic identities. We used “gene fingerprints” on DNA from cheek swabs provided by same-sex twins of all ages. This test is the definitive way to find out if a twin is the same or a sibling.

We compared this to the twins’ own perceptions before taking the test.

we found Almost one-third of the twins we tested were incorrect or uncertain about their genetic identity. Some were even given false information by medical professionals.

The universal sentiment was twins, and they felt their families knew the truth better.Our data has enabled us to develop better education Financial resources For twins and their supporters to know more about themselves.

Studies show that identical twins are not perfect clones

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