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Same Same But Different: Why Identical Twins Can be Unalike

There’s a great article from a recent New Yorker that asks the questions: How can two people who share the exact same DNA and upbringing turn out to be very different grown-ups?


identical twins


The answer is epigenetics, the new but rapidly growing field of study that looks at histones, the structures that surrround DNA. DNA is the raw material for who we are; histones determine what in our DNA gets expressed and what doesn’t. What scientists are learning is that while genetics can be tough to alter, epigenetics are more malleable. And also they’re pretty critical in determining our health, longevity, mental illnesses, and even personality traits.

This is why identical twins can turn out to be quite different people.

Think of it like this. Two people can go to the store and pick out the exact same ingredients: Chicken, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, oil. But with the dash of a few spices, one person can turn this into a Mexican fajita platter, the other person can turn it into Italian, and another could make a Chinese stir-fry out of it.

I’m thrilled by this field of study because it gives us more power over our destinies. We don’t have to feel “trapped” by our DNA. And our multiples, especially identical twins, don’t have to feel “trapped” in having two versions of themselves out there in the world. Our experiences, our choices–these influence which of our genes get expressed and which don’t. And over the course of years, we can have a big impact on our own health and happiness.

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