Guide Barely Identical

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Add to Watchlist. You might be interested in these similar ads. Carrera Zelos Bike. Jorge pulls himself together, looks at William a bit more appraisingly; Jorge is chewing gum, and his jaw is working hard. He puts his hand on his cheek, pressing his own flesh: Yes, this is me. That person over there, that is him. William is quiet, shifting his weight so that he appears to be swaying from side to side. It was easier, clearly, for Jorge to turn his gaze to Wilber, the double of Carlos. Jorge stares at Wilber and shakes his head. Wilber had seen the photos of Carlos, who wore glasses.

Having seen how much William looked like Jorge, Wilber was now eager to meet Carlos. Around 10, Carlos heard the doorbell ring. He walked to the door and then stood there, paralyzed: He could barely bring himself to answer. He knew it was Jorge and those men from the photos. Those people were not just strangers; they were stranger than strangers, players in a story about his life over which he had little control.

Carlos heard a giggle: It was his own, but it was not coming from him, or maybe it was.

You cannot block the sun with one finger, their mother used to say. Carlos opened the door, and the group filed in, like a procession from a dream. There was Jorge, and there was his double — it was Jorge in a strange sweater; Jorge, only quiet; Jorge without the cool confidence. There was some woman, and some other guy. And then there he was — Carlos was staring at himself, an altered version of himself, a funny photocopy, a joke, a nightmare. Carlos looked at Wilber, his mirror image. Wilber started speaking, but Carlos was having a hard time catching what he was saying.

The speech impediment! Carlos had one as a child but overcame it with speech therapy. All four started comparing notes, quizzing one another, finding out which essential qualities the identical twins shared. Who were the crybabies of the family? Carlos and Wilber! Who had sweet temperaments? Jorge and William!


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Who were more organized? Who were the strongest? Even still, while Jorge was seeing sameness with every glance he stole at William, Carlos was seeking differences between him and his country double. Carlos, by contrast, frequently got manicures; his nails, as is not uncommon among male professionals in Colombia, were covered in clear gloss.

Where was she? He showed him a photo of her as a young woman: long hair clipped back, beautiful eyes set in a kind, serious face. Staring at the photo, William was struck with a new blow of grief; he did not speak for several minutes. For most of the evening, the energy in the apartment was positive and giddy. The young men were enjoying themselves, reveling in the hilarious, specific similarities that were easier to spot than the differences. But for each of them, poised and waiting on the other side of the door was a profound feeling of loss: lost time with parents and siblings, lost opportunities, lost years, lost creation myths.

Jorge seemed determined to make sure those feelings were kept at bay, at least for the time being.


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Around midnight, the visitors left, promising to meet again soon. Jorge and Carlos stared at each other in the empty living room. Everything was the same; everything was different. Jorge saw that Carlos had started to cry. Carlos walked over to Jorge to wrap him in a close hug. And yet, in their utter inexplicability, identical twins have helped elucidate our most basic understanding of why, and how, we become who we are.

By studying the overlap of traits in fraternal twins who share, on average, 50 percent of their genes and the overlap of those traits in identical twins who share percent of their genes , scientists have, for more than a century, been trying to tease out how much variation within a population can be attributed to heredity and how much to environment. His scientific successor, Hermann Werner Siemens, a German dermatologist, in the early s conducted the first studies of twins that bear remarkable similarity to those still conducted today.

Despite periods of controversy, twins studies proliferated. Researchers have claimed to divine a genetic influence in such varied traits as gun ownership, voting preferences, homosexuality, job satisfaction, coffee consumption, rule enforcement and insomnia. The studies point to the influence of genes on almost every aspect of our being a conclusion so sweeping that it indicates, to some scientists, only that the methodology must be fatally flawed. It is based on the complex combined effects of an unaccountable number of genes. Arguably the most intriguing branch of twins research involves a small and unusual class of research subjects: identical twins who were reared apart.

Thomas Bouchard Jr. They not only looked remarkably similar, but had also vacationed on the same Florida beach, married women with the same first name, divorced those women and married second wives who also shared the same name, smoked the same brand of cigarette and built miniature furniture for fun. Similar in personality as well as in vocal intonation, they seemed to have been wholly formed from conception, impervious to the effects of parenting, siblings or geography.

He found that in almost every instance, the identical twins, whether reared together or reared apart, were more similar to each other than their fraternal counterparts were for traits like personality and, more controversial, intelligence. Genes and unique experiences — a semester abroad, an important friend — were more influential. As pure science, the study of twins reared apart has troubled some researchers.

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Identical twins who do not look remarkably alike, of course, are also less likely to be spotted and reunited in the first place. And few studies of twins, whether reared apart or reared together, have included twins from extremely different backgrounds. Segal has been studying Chinese twins fraternal and identical pairs reared together and reared apart since She got in touch with Segal, whom she knew only by reputation. She then approached the young men, who agreed to be the subject of their research. No matter how fascinating, the two sets of twins represent a sample of only two.

But to Segal, the possibilities were dizzying, unique. In no other family she knew of were there so many kinds of twin pairings to analyze and compare: Jorge and Carlos, Jorge and William, Jorge and Wilber and so on. The twins knew the research would require them to submit, over the course of a week in March, to several probing interviews, individually and in pairs, as well as hours holed up in a conference room filling out questionnaires. There would be questions about their homes, lives and education, as well as personality and intelligence tests.

Segal told them that she was interested in writing a book about them Montoya would later collaborate with her , and the young men were enthusiastic subjects. William had only one condition for his participation: He insisted that Segal and Montoya visit the home in which he grew up in Santander.

Without that, he thought, they could never really understand who he was. He did worry, however, that if he told Segal and Montoya how long it would take to get to Santander, they would never agree to go. So he dodged and evaded whenever the subject of travel time came up. For how long? A little while, William would say; it might be a little muddy. How muddy? Maybe, he would suggest, it would be easier if at that point Segal traveled by horse.

Would she, by any chance, rather ride a horse? Segal, a woman in her early 60s who grew up in the Bronx, said no. Around a. The group — Segal, Montoya, the two sets of twins, translators and assorted friends and family members — had already been on the road for six hours. They settled in for a traditional breakfast of bone broth and hot chocolate at a diner in town. Jorge and William sat next to each other along one side of a wooden table, while Carlos sat across the way. Wilber sat with Segal and Montoya. While everyone ate breakfast, Carlos took out his phone and called up a picture of him and Jorge.

William watched Carlos, feeling annoyed. Wilber, he had often thought, was the same way: He took William entirely for granted, showing his love only on very rare occasions — when, for example, he thought one of them could die. I love you. They often called each other right before they fell asleep, just to say good night. The four young men all knew one another well by then. Over the past six months, they had gone on outings and shared meals, talked about women, family, money, values. Even weeks in, each had stared, still unnerved and amazed, into the eyes of his identical brother.

They had measured, assessed and inspected.

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Over dinner one night, Jorge noted that Carlos and Wilber both leaned in at the same odd angle toward their plates. The twins from Santander were amazed that neither of their city counterparts had ever fired a gun, which they quickly remedied on a visit to the country. Carlos did feel immediately at ease with his newfound twin, he had to admit.


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Wilber did not try to tell him what to do when he talked about his love life, the way Jorge did; he just listened and supported him. Having grown up so different from his other family members, he had come to pride himself on his individualism; now, as an identical twin, he was part of a rare subset of humans whose replicability was embarrassingly on display.

Far from believing that he had found his perfect other half, Carlos felt lonelier than ever.

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The two now wore the same sneakers, shaved their goatees the same way. Sometimes Carlos told himself, with a strange twisted relief, that he was glad this had all happened after his mother died; the jealousy he would have felt had she embraced William as Jorge had would have been more than he could take. Carlos knew that Jorge was attuned to his sadness, that he even wanted to help. But whenever they tried to talk about it, they fell into mutually irritating old patterns. But Jorge tried. Six weeks or so after the reunion, Jorge asked Carlos for a photo of himself.

That Saturday, Jorge went to a tattoo parlor. He already had a tattoo of his mother over his heart. He came home and lifted his shirt to show Carlos the work, his skin still bloody and swollen from the violence of the needle. It was, Carlos would later remark, with tears in his eyes, the best present anyone had ever given him. It brought him some measure of peace. At breakfast in La Paz, however, Carlos felt that Jorge was provoking him once again. Moments after Carlos pulled out that photo, Jorge turned to him and brought up a sensitive subject the two had already discussed in many late-night conversations: Who would Carlos have turned out to be had he been raised in Santander?

Come on, Carlos, Jorge said — look around. Do you really think that if you had been raised here you would have ended up an accountant or even a professional? William said nothing, but his face took on a hard cast. Carlos had no idea, he thought, how far a strong will could or could not get you. He managed to pass the test, but his score was low — eight months of part-time cramming could not make up for all those years of lost schooling.

When William arrived at the barracks, a commanding officer recognized him. There were no more strings to be pulled; he could never be a petty officer; it was over. He would have to go home. For five days, William stayed past his welcome, hiding and mingling among the groups of soldiers. He hoped that things would sort themselves out, but more than that, he could not bring himself to leave: Leaving meant he had given up. William knew that Carlos was unfamiliar with that part of his history. And Carlos could not know, could never really know, how many hours William had spent hacking sugar cane with a machete as a teenager, his skin crawling from the heat and the itchy scraps of stalk, carrying 50 pounds of cane at a time, mindless, painful, strenuous work.

Carlos had spent those same years, William knew, flirting with girls at an excellent public high school, playing basketball with his friends, racking up points on some video game, the name of which William would not even know. Carlos was wrong, William felt certain. Sometimes, a will was not enough. Had he grown up in Santander, Carlos would not be an accountant on the rise right now. After breakfast, the cars left La Paz, driving on serpentine, stone-strewn roads with lush palm fronds and ferns closing in overhead.

With the heat of the sun now strong, one driver kept mopping his sweating face with a bandanna he borrowed from one of the relatives in the car, as if he was physically exhausted from the stress of maneuvering the vehicle over riverbeds and around ditches. Finally, around a. Everyone piled out of the vehicles. It was time to walk.

It became clear that the grassy path would not be suitable for luggage rolling, so William, who had carried far heavier loads on this journey before, easily slung the purple suitcase onto his shoulders. The group started making its way along the path, which briefly lurched uphill. William was moving at high speed, despite the suitcase. He called out that as strong as he was, Jorge was every bit as strong, although it seemed unlikely that that could possibly true. He backtracked until he reached Carlos, pushed the suitcase at him and then quickly headed off.

The path tracked across a grassy meadow and then started a long, steep descent. Within minutes, the path was made of mud — rich, claylike mud that was two feet deep in some patches. Carlos, who was always impeccably dressed, stepped carefully. But his Adidas basketball sneakers were quickly soaked with oozing earth.

Carlos was as uncomfortable emotionally as he was physically. But he felt ill at ease on both visits. He knew William thought he had behaved churlishly, resisting the friendly overtures of his extended family. But there were just too many people around — locals, cousins, every one of them, it had seemed, wanting a photograph or a hug or some other sign of a connection that he himself did not feel. How was he supposed to get to know his biological parents when there was always a crowd around?

As he embraced his biological parents, they were weeping profusely. He had had a mother, and a very good one at that. It was high noon in Santander. Carlos picked his way through the mud, which splattered and quickly baked hard onto his legs in the sun. Then Carlos — Carlos, who was so vain about his clothing, fussy about fit, who was always brushing at the cuff of his pants to rid it of some imaginary lint — let out a howl. His foot had sunk deep in the mud.

Slowly, with the help of someone from the area who was walking alongside him, he began to extricate it. There was a loud suctioning sound: Sludge coated his bare leg well past his knee. Carlos approached Carmelo with a smile: The two hugged warmly.

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But then there was silence; neither seemed to know what to say. William was standing close by, watching Carlos and his father. William looked pristine, except for a little mud on his boots. He had not even had a moment to catch his breath when William quickly batted his cap. Carlos was still annoyed about the conversation they had at breakfast. Jorge seemed to want him to make some grand emotional statement about how lucky he had been in the swap, how much tougher his lot would have been had he, in fact, been raised in Santander.

He might not even be alive if he had grown up here. Maybe if he had grown up in Santander, he would have joined the guerrillas, who were popular a decade earlier but also brutal. Far from believing in the inevitability of his professional success, he worried about whether his character, in that alternate life, would have withstood the forces around him. But no, he was not going to say all of that at breakfast, in front of a bunch of people.

That was not who he was. But that one cell splits into two, and instantly, lights begin to go out, potential dims. In order for that one cell to become a tiny bit of flesh in a heart, and not the hair of an eyebrow, one or more of its genetic signaling pathways must shut down. The result is differentiation, a steady process of elimination that allows complex biological universes to be built. Every time a group of cells divides, each one becomes more like one thing, less like another.

By the time that embryo is five or six days old, which is when a majority of fateful twin splits occur, some of those cells, by chance, go to one twin and some to the other. This means that the expression of some genes in one of those future twins is already, in subtle ways, likely to be different from the expression of genes in the other future twin, theorizes Harvey Kliman, the director of the reproductive and placental research unit at the Yale School of Medicine.

From the moment that most identical twins separate, they may well have different epigenetics, a term that refers to the way genes are read and expressed, depending on environment. They are already different products of their environment, the environment being whatever uterine conditions rendered them separate beings in the first place. The casual observer is fascinated by how similar identical twins are, but some geneticists are more interested in identifying all the reasons they might differ, sometimes in significant ways. Why might one identical twin be gay or transgender and not the other?

Why do identical twins, born with the same DNA, sometimes die of different diseases at different times in their lives? Their environments must be different, but which aspect of their environment is the one that took their biology in a different direction? Smoking, stress, obesity — those are some of the factors that researchers have been able to link to specific changes in the expression of specific genes.

They expect, in time, to find hundreds, possibly thousands, of others. On average, the researchers found, any particular trait or disease in an individual is about 50 percent influenced by environment and 50 percent influenced by genes. But that simple ratio does not capture our complicated systems of genetic circuitry, the way our genes steadily interact with the environment, switching on, switching off, depending on the stimulus, sometimes with lasting results that will continue on in our genome, passed to the next generation.

Craig has analyzed the epigenetic profiles of 34 identical and fraternal twins at birth, collecting swabs from their inner cheeks. To Craig, it was noteworthy that in some cases — not many, but some — the epigenetic profile of one newborn twin was more similar to an unrelated baby than to the identical twin with whom that baby shared a womb. Structural differences in the womb could possibly account for it, Craig says — a thicker umbilical cord for one than the other there are, in fact, two cords or an awkward site of connection for the umbilical cord on the placenta.

But he recognizes that there could be additional factors still in the realm of guesswork. Segal and Craig were eager to see the epigenetic results for the Colombian twins. Whose epigenetic profile, they wondered, would look more alike? The biologically unrelated twins who shared an environment — Segal calls them virtual twins — or the ones whose DNA was the same? A sample of four subjects could only raise questions, not answer them. Bouchard was influential in convincing his fellow researchers, as well as the public, that some significant part of who we are is influenced by DNA, which was hardly a given when he started his work.

Spector and Craig, by contrast, are trying to identify how, exactly, we change in response to the environment. Their essential question is different: How can science identify genes that have been flicked on or off, with potentially harmful results, so they can be switched back the other way? Traditional twin studies were perceived to be seeking the immutable; epigenetic twin studies try to clarify what, in us, is subject to change — and more specifically, what mechanisms make that change happen. A local politician had accompanied the group on the hike to Santander.

Locals like to get on their bellies, inch their way up to its rim and peer down into the abyss. She was trying to get them to identify their feelings about all they had gone through, partly by recalling the physical sensations that they felt at various stages. And just when you have put a foot here or there, you keep going down. Carlos seemed surprised at one point when Segal asked him to describe the ways in which he and Wilber differed. At the time, Carlos pointed out that he liked older women, while Wilber liked younger ones.

But the answer was, of course, far more complicated. Carlos was like Wilber in large, sweeping ways, and unlike him in infinite small ways: the expressions that darted across his and his face alone, the thoughts and worries that filled his mind. Carlos was, for better or for worse, more cynical than Wilber, more suave; Wilber was more joyful around small children, quicker to laugh out loud. Jorge and William, too, have obvious differences. Was every one of these differences learned? Did some reflect different epigenetics? The mother who raised Carlos loved him, he knew. But he was also aware that a cousin had moved in with them when they were babies, expressly so that each child could be the beneficiary of the form of attachment parenting the hospital was encouraging at the time.

Their mother wore Jorge in a sling; it was the cousin who wore Carlos. In May, Carlos told Wilber that he wanted to visit his biological family, but without crowds of relatives or psychologists or camera crews. And Wilber passed that on to William. On a weekend in June when Wilber unfortunately had to work, William, Jorge and Carlos took a bus to see Carmelo and Ana for a relaxed, private visit.

Carlos sat next to William on the bus on their way up and listened as William, who had become something of a local celebrity in Santander, talked about his plans to run for City Council in La Paz.