“Dynamic Duos: Why Science Loves Twins”

“One of the broadest studies of twins in the United States suggests that our genes tend to influence the diseases that afflict us more than where we live, according to research published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics.” M. Nedelman, CNN

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Astronaut twins Mark (l) and twin Scott Kelly (r)-were subjects of experiments. NASA

Excerpt: Why science loves twins, M.Nedelman, CNN

“Using insurance claims data, researchers identified more than 56,000 pairs of twins and estimated the heritability of 560 diseases, finding that nearly a third of the variation in these conditions could be attributed to genetics, on average. Where people grew up was less contributory on the whole…’The relationship between genetics and environment in disease is incredibly nuanced,’ said study author Chirag Patel, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Harvard Medical School.

Scott Kelly (left) spent a year in space while his identical twin Mark (right) stayed on Earth as a control subject. Photo- NASA

Of the diseases the researchers looked at, 40% had a significant genetic component, and about 25% had an environmental one — though the strength of that relationship could be different for any given disease. For example, morbid obesity was found to be strongly influenced by genetics and the environment, Patel said.

‘You get people who are very deterministic, who say ‘it’s genes’ or ‘it’s environment.’ This shows it’s a mixture,’ said Jeffrey M. Craig, associate professor at the Deakin University School of Medicine and deputy director of Twins Research Australia. Craig was not involved in the new study.

Twin Plus Festival-Melbourne.weekendnotes.comjpeg.

As twin registries merge and incorporate big data, as in the new study, experts like Craig look forward to new stages of twins enriching science. ‘That’s one of the ways twin research is growing,’ he said.

About 33 in every 1,000 human births in the United States are twins, a rate that has climbed in recent decades as more women marry later and take fertility drugs or employ in vitro fertilization, factors that are known to increase the likelihood of multiple births. Identical twins are an even more exclusive club: roughly four in every 1,000 births. They are formed when a single fertilized egg splits in two, creating two embryos with the same DNA.

McClure Twins.

In more recent years, however, twins have revealed a genetic component to a number of outcomes such as epilepsy, religiosity, autism and mental health, according to experts. NASA even conducted its own twin study on how astronaut Scott Kelly’s gene expression changed after a year on the International Space Station, relative to that of his identical twin, Mark, who remained on Earth. Twins have also suggested that something outside the genetic code can explain why one identical twin might develop Type 1 diabetes or Parkinson’s disease and the other doesn’t.

Annual gathering in Twinsburg, Ohio. mirror.co.uk

One festival for twins has also become one big Petri dish for scientists: Twins Days, an annual event that brings thousands of twins to northeastern Ohio.

Year after year, a cluster of research tents invites twins to contribute to a potpourri of science. In past years, Procter & Gamble, the maker of Olay, has studied twins to better understand the aging process and its effect on skin.

The Los Angeles Police Department has looked at slight differences between twins’ fingerprints to improve its identification tools. Biometric researchers have photographed and recorded twins speaking in order to create better facial and voice recognition systems. The FBI has funded similar research there, as well.

Traditionally, researchers have studied identical twins versus fraternal controls. These sibling pairs share the same upbringing and environment, but identical twins share all their DNA and fraternal twins onlyabout half…There’s even research by twins, for twins — looking at their ‘special bond’ in order to best counsel them in therapy, Craig said.

Ayumichi twins.

But even though twin research long predates the discovery of the double helix, advancements in genetics have not replaced twins, who continue to unravel our most elusive traits.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activity: Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The relationship between genetics and environment in disease is incredibly nuanced.
  2. Research found that nearly a third of certain conditions could be attributed to genetics.
  3. Obesity was found to be strongly influenced by genetics and the environment.
  4. More women marry later and take fertility drugs.
  5. Some women employ in vitro fertilization
  6. Identical twins are  a very exclusive class.
  7. Twins have also suggested that there is something outside the genetic code to explain various diseases.
  8. Biometric researchers have photographed and recorded twins speaking.
  9. One festival for twins has also become one big Petri dish for scientists.
  10. Traditionally, researchers have studied identical twins versus fraternal twins.

Word Map by Against the Oddstiff


Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over, through, from, during, up, off,

Environment was less contributory ___the whole.

One ___the broadest studies___twins___ the United States takes place ___Ohio.

Roughly 33 ___every 1,000 human births___ the United States are twins.

Decades ago, there was very little acknowledgment___genetic influences ___children’s mental health.

Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Our ___is whether some ___are ___and, if so, to what? Our ___is whether this is a ___determined trait. We like to ___genetically___twins to___that are no more ___than ordinary siblings.

WORD LIST:  similar,   twins,  compare, identical, taste-blind, question, genetically, people, interest,

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. The article states, There’s also value in looking at children of twins and at twins raised apart…which could shed light on whether certain behaviors or disorders are likely to be passed down through parents’ genes versus their home environments.”  Provide examples that supports this statement.
  2. Are you a twin? If so describe how you and your twin behave differently (or the same) as other siblings.
  3. Would you like to be a twin? Explain why or why not.



Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.