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The Role of Genetic Factors in the Formation of Identical Twins

14.02.2012 14:55

Although a pair of identical twins is born every 50 seconds, the precise details of the process through which a single embryo issues two perfectly formed and viable human beings has long eluded scientists. Many felt the fact that its incidence does not correlate with the parents’ race, age or country of residence suggests that such pregnancies are random events. And yet, both twin-rich families and animals like the armadillo suggest that genetic factors do play a part.

Pinning those factors down has long been Dr Bruno Reversade’s pet project. He has flown to some remote places to collect samples from related pairs of identical twins, and his website encourages twins, or their kin, to come forward and participate in the research.

The result is that Dr Reversade thinks he and his team may have found a gene involved in monozygotic twinning in humans. He is cagey about revealing the details before his preliminary results are replicated and the precise pathway by which the genetic variant in question governs embryological development is nailed down. But if that is successful, the ramifications could be far-reaching. After all, understanding how nature creates clones may permit humans to master the same trick.

The Economist