Seeing double at the twins registry conference

December 14 / 150

Professor John Hopper and Dr Nancy Segal with twins at the conference.
Professor John Hopper and Dr Nancy Segal with twins at the conference.

Twins and twin researchers gathered at the University over the weekend for the inaugural Healthier Kids: Insights from Twins Research conference.

The conference brought together leading researchers and health professionals from around the world with twins and their families to discuss current child health issues.

Professor John Hopper from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and Director of the Australian Twin Registry (ATR) said the key message of the conference was the way twins can contribute to research helps us understand what it is to be human, and he thought the presentations were very engaging.

“Nancy Segal’s lunch time talk on twins who grew up apart, which was open to the public, was a great success,” he said.

Dr Segal, Director of Twin Studies Centre at California State University and herself a twin, recently helped to reunite the longest-separated twins on record – fraternal twins who had been apart for 78 years.

Dr Segal said studying twins is the best natural experiment we have, especially when they are raised apart.

“They share identical genes but differ in environment, allowing us to identify how much of our behaviour and physical traits are guided by each,” she said.

Her findings show genetics are even more pervasive than previously thought, influencing our health, personality, behaviour and intelligence.

This evidence is leading to the rethinking of conventional ideas about parenting, child development and teaching.

Professor Hopper said by getting the research community together with the research participants, they were better able to understand each other’s needs.

“For example, parents of young twins want research conducted into issues that are pertinent to them,” he said.

“The ATR has rolled out two on-line questionnaires; one for adult twin pairs and the other for younger twins pairs, filled out by their parents.

Following the conference, the ATR is now considering a new on-line questionnaire for the parents that addresses the concerns that were raised.

“Given that researchers want to understand more about the roles of genes and environment, the new survey will also seek more information about the roles of the parents in the upbringing of twins, which will include questions about melded families and same-sex parents,” he said.

“This will be a world first.”

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