What does the latest research about twins tell us about ourselves?
Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 20:30

Brenton Gurney was experiencing chronic headaches but an MRI showed nothing malicious. When his twin brother, Craig, who showed no symptoms, went in for a scan - it revealed a rare brain tumour the size of a lemon.

Angela Ralph and Marlene Crockett are mirror identical twins. They developed breast cancer – at exactly the same time.

Reigning winners of Australia’s ‘Most Identical Male Twins’ competition, Phillip and Douglas Griffiths are (unsurprisingly) visually inseparable. But Phillip is gay, and Douglas is straight.

Their crown of similarity is something twins Anna and Lucy Decinque aspire to: already identical, they eat the same things, exercise the same amount, dress in the same clothes and even share a boyfriend.

They’re both convinced they’ll be pregnant at the same time – one way or another.

For social and scientific researchers, twins are ‘the perfect natural experiment’.

Identical twins share 99.9 percent of the same DNA, and fraternal twins share half.

Changes between twins (or lack thereof) when they grow up – whether in health, sexuality, intellect or behaviour – can tell us much about the impact of genetic versus environmental factors in these areas.

So what can the latest research on twins tell us about ourselves, and humanity at large?

Insight finds out in this special, double episode feature. 




Relevant Links

Australian Twin Registry 

Australian Multiple Birth Association 

Lifeline | T: 13 11 14


Twins: Part 1


Twins: Part 2


Part 1.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Welcome everyone, good to have you all here, I might need a little bit of help with names tonight, I think, so if I get your names muddled up, I apologise in advance. Anna and Lucy, you're identical twins obviously, apart from your looks, what else do you share? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  We basically share everything from a job, a car, a Facebook account, a bed, a bedroom to even a boyfriend. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   We might get to the boyfriend in a minute but before we go there, when you say everything, I mean how much time do you spend together? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We're never apart, 24/7, wherever she goes, I go with her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about work? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We work together, actually we work - wherever we go we're together. If she walks a few metres I need to walk a few metres because we have to burn the same calories. We think…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you have to burn the same calories? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: That's us, I want my body to look the same as my sister's, we don't want to weigh differently and I know we never will. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what lengths do you go to to ensure your bodies aren't different? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We eat the, our diets are identical. We measure our food has to be identical. The same glass of water we measure, you know, the same size chips we have to measure, that’s you know, how extreme it will get. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   The other twins looking a little bit alarmed. So have you always done this, or is this something you started doing as you've gotten older? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We've become a lot closer since our dad passed away, that was when we were in high school about ten years ago, but we've always been identical. We've always shared everything, but now more so because we're becoming a lot more older we're becoming more alike, yeah, so we don't. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Making yourself more alike or becoming more alike? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Both, everything has to be the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You both had plastic surgery? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Identical plastic surgery? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Yes. Not to look, we've always been identical, it's just we wanted the same procedures.  We wanted to just enhance a few things. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what have you had done? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Our breasts, our breasts. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So are you actively trying to stop any differences as you get older? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Is that what it's about?  Is it about just maintaining that total identical…

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We want to look the same. We want to weigh the same. We want to do everything together. I feel that if my sister's not around I feel I'm -- we're lost without each other, so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you share a boyfriend? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: It just works. We've had separate boyfriends, I know that sounds crazy but it does, people won't agree to it and it's not natural maybe some will think but we're happy, he's happy. Our family and friends accept it. So I mean we've had separate boyfriends in the past, it hasn't worked because of our closeness and because we're with each other 24/7 every single day, every minute of our life together it's just much easier. He's a twin and he understands the bonds, he's fraternal, they don't look alike, but he understands we want to be together all the time. He never favours one twin.  If he kisses me he'll kiss my sister straight afterwards. He never, there's no jealousy. There's no separation between us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you live together, do you all live together? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Yes, we live with our mum and our boyfriend.  So he's surrounded by girls. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and you all, do you mind me asking?

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Yes, we sleep in the same bed. King size, no, super king, bigger than a king size bed.  It's a super king bed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How did you choose our boyfriend? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We met him on Facebook.  It's funny, he's like the chosen one, they say that.  We met him on Facebook and we started talking to him. We didn't believe he was a twin because guys always say oh, I'm a twin, let's date and we just thought, you know, they were joking all the time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's a kind of pick up line? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: That's a pick up line, I'm a twin, I'm a twin, we'll double date. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   My twin isn't here but I'm a twin? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Exactly, so we didn't really give Ben a go for like the first six months and we thought oh, this guy's just joking with us but the more we got to know him... and we spoke to him every night and there was a trust in it and the first night we met him we kissed him, so it hasn't.... 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You both kissed him? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Yes.  We've been together with Ben now for four years, a long time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've made quite a thing of being identical. You've been on a Japanese game show, you've done international interviews, how much of your sameness were you born with and how much have you created or added to yourselves to become more like? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: We're one minute apart, we've always been identical.  I'm the older one, like I'm on the boss.  No, she's not. She's not the boss. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I think this could be a recurring theme tonight too. Yes, go on? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: No, she's not the boss. I feel like I'm a protector, I have to look after Anna sometimes maybe. I feel like that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you ever get sick of one another? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: You're together with a person 24/7 it's going to have its moments, definitely, but then we go a bit quiet or you know .... we never apologise to one another, we just, yeah, make friends, we just make friends.  We don't apologise, we just make friends. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Alright twins, away you go, I'll really interested in your reactions.  Justin and Chris, you've made a thing of being twins too, what do you think of this story? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  Yes, like the girls Justin and I have both had our breasts done. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well, that's a good point to say that you're stand-up comics, let's have a look. 




ANNOUNCER: Please welcome to the stage the awesome nelson twins.

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  Thank you, thank you. You look a bit surprised, haven’t you seen twins before? There’s only one of us mate, you’re just pissed. How are you buddy? I know, not the sort of twins you are used to looking at on the internet. Justin and I haven’t always been twins, for seven minutes I was just an only child, it was the best time of my life, mum, dad and me were so happy together and then he came along and … it.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Are you identical in other ways apart from your looks, and it looks like you try to look similar too, for professional reasons or would you do it anyway? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  Yeah, we certainly do it for the job, yeah.  So we would be living on opposite sides of the world I think if we weren't stand-up comedians because we have quite a dislike for each other. So... 


JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON: Sometimes, sometimes.  Most of the time I'd say. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What don't you like about one another? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  Well actually I get the feeling that you like me more than I like you. I don't like the fact that he's older. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you identical in other ways other than your looks, like are there things about you that are really the same? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  Yes, weight wise I think we weigh about the same, don't we?  Yeah.   So like the girls we try to keep a similar weight. So if I go out for a run and lose a bit of weight Chris will smoke a pack of cigarettes, evens it up. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I do want to get some serious answers out of you, you realise that, that's why you're here, right? What about IQ, interests, all that sort of stuff, are they similar or different? 

JUSTIN AND JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  We have very similar interests so I should say that we both have a love of history and sport.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you do any of that stuff like finish one another's sentences or, you know, sort of feel that you're going through the same feelings at the same time or anything like that? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  I don't think we've ever had that feel each other's pain type situation but I have heard other people say they do, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you like being twins? 

JUSTIN AND CHRIS NELSON:  We don't know any different so it's sort of hard to say. Yeah, I wouldn't mind trying.  Yeah, I'd be more than happy to be a singleton. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Phillip and Douglas, you have been voted the most identical male twins in Australia's biggest twins festival, at Australia's biggest twins’ festival based on your looks? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you alike in other ways, Phillip? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: Everything, we're alike in pretty much everything. We have the same interests in sports, education, social. We did all the same subjects in high school.  We both play soccer, we both study engineering. And we.  ... 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Friends? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  Same, similar friends, same group. When we started high school we tried to separate from each other, would be like new start, I want to be an individual, but then I made friends with people, he made friends with people, and then because of us our friends joined together so it ended up being just one big group together. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you spend much time apart, are you anything like these two? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: We do eat a lot of the same thing.  Not the same boyfriend, no. I guess the biggest time we spend apart is universities, Phillip goes to Monash in Melbourne and I go to Swinburne in Melbourne.  But we're still messaging each other throughout the day.  Not during lectures or classes. Of course. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But how often a day would you be in touch with one another? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  Every couple of hours I think. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what about differences? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: Differences, it's not something that's big between us -- The only real difference I can say is that I'm gay and Doug's straight and that's pretty much the only difference between us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's a big difference? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: It is. We had to share I think.  I think the men were missing out, accommodate all audience. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, we're going to get back to that a little bit later on. Jeff Craig, I wanted to ask you just about hearing these stories, you study twins, why are they so interesting to researchers? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG, AUSTRALIAN TWIN REGISTRY:   Well twins, first of all they have a special relationship as you've heard and secondly they're interesting to twins researchers because it makes us think about genetics. If identical twins can be different then we're asking what is, what is out there that is influencing health and behaviour beyond genetics? And it also helps to tease apart the genetic and the environmental cause of disease and wellbeing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Because with identical twins particularly you've got almost totally identical genes? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Yes, with identical twins you have identical genes. In fact just the length of DNA but what can actually come on top of those genes, the epigenetics can be different within twin pairs. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about fraternal twins, why is it important to study both identical and fraternal twins?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   I think it's very important to study fraternal twins because they have, they share 50 percent of their genes and we can ask well, what does this mean?  How does this make them different and how does it make them similar? 




Non identical twins are just like ordinary brothers and sisters, they come from separate eggs, fertilized by separate sperm and on average only spare fifty percent of their genes. Identical twins on the other hand start life in an almost magical way, when an embryo destined to be one person, suddenly splits into two for no apparent reason. They share 99.9% of their DNA, effectively making them clones of each other.


JENNY BROCKIE:   So what do those different things enable you to look for? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Well, we compare how similar identical twins are and how similar fraternal twins are. And we can work out what, what extent genes or environment, nature and nurture, is responsible for particular health conditions. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how is that relevant to the rest of us? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   It's relevant to the rest of us because twins get the same health conditions and they get sick just like the rest of us, there's no real way which they're different and only by looking at twins can you real tease apart the genetic from the environmental component. So twins are absolutely essential to understand the health and wellbeing of the rest of us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Joy and Margaret, you were flown to the US for a twin study? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Joy, why were the researchers so interested in you two? 

JOY WILLIAMS:  Because Margaret and I were separated at birth, we grew up in different homes. We grew up with different families. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you didn't meet properly till you were 27 years old? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  That's right. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But there was a moment when you saw one another when you were nine? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Well we lived in, Joy lived in Hurstville, I lived in Bexley so it's a couple of suburbs in Sydney suburbs. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A couple of suburbs away with one another? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Yeah, a couple of suburbs away. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Without knowing, yeah? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  And I was with my group of students and we were sitting having lunch and one of the girls come running back and said Margie, Margie, Margie come here, come here.  I thought what do you want? So I went and they were doing the same with Joy over the other side. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So each of your friends had seen the other twin? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Yeah. The other. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And they wanted to get you to see one another? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  We just stared at one another and we sort of got a bit of a fright because it was like me looking in a mirror. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you were nine? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Yeah, we were about nine years old. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you say anything to one another? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  No we didn't. 

JOY WILLIAMS:  Actually I wasn't told I was adopted you see and I got a shock.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But did it explain for you seeing your mirror image, seeing somebody who was identical to you, did she tell you you were a twin? 

JOY WILLIAMS:  Yes, yes, she did explain and later on she wanted to know whether I would like to meet this other little girl and me for some reason I didn't, it didn't. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you want to follow through on this, having seen her? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  No, my mum said oh, you're a double, you've got a double, she's your double and I just thought well in those days if your parents said anything it had to be true. You know, you didn't argue. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So in those years then afterwards, you only met properly at 27? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   So what was it like when you were together for the first time? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Well it was, at first we felt more like…

JOY WILLIAMS:  Girlfriends.

MARGARET BOSCO:  Just like we were like a friend. 

JOY WILLIAMS:  A friend. 

MARGARET BOSCO: And it wasn't until a couple of years later. 


MARGARET BOSCO: That we actually bonded. 


MARGARET BOSCO: You know, and we'd meet, we'd meet but only as sort of like friends with our children. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And then something shifted? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  And then I said we are twins, aren't we?

JOY WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And felt the bonding. 

MARGARET BOSCO:  And now look at us? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How alike are you? 

MARGARET BOSCO:  Well, we have, we're church goers, both of us have always loved the Lord and we go to church and that's our life actually.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Health, similar?

MARGARET BOSCO:  Yes, very. 

JOY WILLIAMS:  Very similar. 

MARGARET BOSCO: We're both very healthy for our age. 


MARGARET BOSCO:  We both like jewellery, plenty of jewellery. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Nancy Segal in LA, you've studied twins who were separated at birth for 35 years.  People like Joy and Margaret are gold dust to you.  Why? 

DR NANCY SEGAL, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY:  Well, reared apart twins are a wonderful experiment that occurs naturally.  The great thing about them is that we can see how similar identical twins are when they're reared apart. We can see how much their genes and they underlie those behaviours. We heard the story about how they both like religious activities and we know from our research that religious participation and the intensity of religious participation is guided in part by genetic factors. I have also studied individual cases of reared apart twins and we find there too that these twins are remarkably alike.

JENNY BROCKIE:   A lot of people I think would be surprised to hear you say that religiosity can be in the genes. How sure are you of that? 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  Yes, well, there is no such thing as a gene for religiosity. Religiosity is a very complex trait and it's probably under the control of many, many different genes, but keep in mind that it's not perfect genetic influence.  We find that the degree of genetic factors may be 50 percent which leaves the other 50 percent to the environment, mostly non shared unique experiences that people have on their own. But what would propel somebody to engage in religious activities, it could be a personality trait, a spirituality, traditionalism, things of that sort, all personality traits that we know to be genetically influenced. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how can you come to that conclusion that you know, it's 50 percent or it's some percentage?

DR NANCY SEGAL:  Well there are ways of doing that. We have quantitative methods in twin research.  What we do is we compare the similarities of identical twins to the similarities of fraternal twins and that's a lovely simple yet very elegant experiment because identical twins share all their genes and fraternal twins share half the genes on average by descent.  So if identical twins are more alike in the trait of interest, this tells us the genes do play some role in the development of that trait. So when we look at religious attitudes, religious participation, we do find that identical twins are more alike and based on various quantitative methods that we have we could come up with a figure of about 50 percent.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Dean, you've got something to say about religiosity and genes? 

DR DEAN HAMER, GENETICIST:  I think it's really about genes generally.  It's just important as we look at the role of genes in all of this variety of different traits to realise that because most of the studies are done on people living in the same country, in the same sort of social milieu, that we really underestimate how important environment is. So for example, Nancy mentioned that religiosity is about 50 percent genetic but if you compare anyone who lives in Australia to anyone who lives in the United States, the Australian is about ten times less likely to go to church and that has nothing do with their genes and everything to do with what I would call a much better social system in Australia than we have in the United States right now.

Similary, my own group did a study on spirituality and found there's a strong genetic component to how much people feel a sense of connection to things outside of them, about 50 percent genetic. But if you ask what those specific beliefs are, they're completely environmental. Being a Catholic, being a Protestant, being a Buddhist, being a Muslim has nothing to do with your genes and everything to do with the environment. So it's important to realise that while genes are important for individual differences, our social environment also plays a tremendously important role. 




ALEX AND DOUG DUNN:  So I guess there are not a whole lot of differences in our personality, you would be better off asking someone else. Honestly I … we know a few twins just sort of socially and most of them seem to go to a lot of effort to be sort of very independent separate people but we have never really done that. I don’t mind if someone calls me Doulas when my name is actually Alex. We cycle together, we like watching TV, we like the same movies, we love the same books, ultimately if Alex is doing something, I will tag along and if I am doing something, he will tag along.

The last game of Chess we played lasted two hours and it was a stalemate. We were exactly evenly matched in skills so it didn’t end up mattering, we just ended up having to give up because we both had like a king each and a couple on the board and that was it. We would study together a lot and people would ask “Oh, how on earth did you find the time to get all of that done?”  It is just because there are two people doing one person’s work. Until we were fifteen years old, the only way I could tell the difference in photos, was I was the guy in blue and Alex was the guy in red.



JENNY BROCKIE:   Alex, what are you studying? 

ALEX DUNN: I study medicine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Doug, what do you study? 

DOUG DUNN:  Medicine. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you've both studied overseas? 

DOUG DUNN:  Correct, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you both won Churchill Fellowships? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: Yes, that's right.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Which are very competitive. Did you get them in the same year? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: Same year, yeah, same time. Email came at the same time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   For the same thing? 

DOUG DUNN: Different research projects in the same area, both medical, cancer research. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did you both go at school? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN:  We scored the same.  Got exactly the same ATAR at the end of year 12, same mark. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Exactly the same ATAR? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, so what was that? 

ALEX DUNN: 99 and a half. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. How do you explain all of this the two of you? 

DOUG DUNN: It's already been discussed, people are, made up of their genetics, their environmental inputs and their social inputs, and I suppose, given that well, we understand that we're fraternal, maybe, yeah, I suppose it comes down to us having had a very similar social and environmental upbringing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you're fraternal twins? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN:  Well, that's what we think.  We've never been tested but  ... we've always felt we were but we understand that there's sort of some ambiguity associated with the tests in determining whether someone is fraternal or identical. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you study the same amount? 

DOUG DUNN: Yeah, to a degree it's due to sort of a brotherly benign competition between the two of us. If Alex is sitting at home studying and I'm watching TV I feel terrible.

ALEX DUNN: Yeah and vice versa.

DOUG DUNN:  There's not been like an active, oh, it's 8 o'clock, we've got to study now.  It will be Alex is studying at 8 o'clock, oh well, I should probably study as well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I better do it too? 

DOUG DUNN:  So yes, we got the same marks but that was just an average. So Alex beat me in English and in French at school. I beat him in physics and chemistry and then I think we got the same mark in maths.  So everything was slightly different but it averaged out overall to be exactly the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That is so weird. 

DOUG DUNN:  Yeah, isn't it?  I remember the day the HSC marks came out, I was so stressed because what if he beat me by a bit or I beat him by a bit?  What was going to happen?  How were we going to deal with that competition?

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were you two like that? 

PHILLIP GRIFFITHS:  Yeah, we did exactly the same subjects as well but Phil, we did have that awkwardness where I got a really good, I got a 90, obviously not as great as you guys, but I was really excited about that but Doug got the 80, even though we were competitive.


JENNY BROCKIE:   Not competitive at all? 

PHILLIP GRIFFITHS:  Yeah, there was that awkwardness if -- oh yeah, I can celebrate but sort of downer. 

DOUG DUNN:  But ultimately you're not defined by your mark anyway.  In school all you really know is studying but you're not really defined by the mark itself so ultimately it's a meaningless thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's easy for you to say of course, very easy for you to say. But you did similar study and all that kind of thing? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   But different outcomes? 

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: Different outcomes. We got told in high school, our school did this, that identical twins they don't put them in the same classes. 

JACK AND PAT PIERCE:  We went to the same school. 

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  They would always separate us, make sure we're in different…

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  Was that the same for you as well? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What's going on here?  You went to the same school? 

JACK AND PAT PIERCE:  Six years apart. We were, had prep and grade 1 together and then we weren't together again until like year 10.  I don't remember any of this. Oh, yeah, we did this, no clue. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So were you similar at school? 

PAT PIERCE: Yeah, no, we both did music, we were both good at maths. I - you ended up doing French, okay, so in year 7 split up and one would do Indonesian and you know, the half year 7's would do Indonesian and half would do French and then they'd swap at the next semester. And so Jack did French and loved it and I did Indonesian and thought it was pretty good but then it got to my turn to do French and I hated it. So Jack just came in and did all my tests for me. But now I've actually gone back to start studying French, he speaks it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you did exams for one another? 

DOUGLAS AND PHILLIP GRIFFITHS: Oh, no, we're talking about exams. You don't have exams in year 7.  Just got a, no, it was just year 7 when I had to do French and I didn't want to, but then we ended up choosing the things that we liked doing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Serious back peddling, I hope you're not watching. Yes? 

JACK PIERCE: I really think what you guys were saying about because you're both studying engineering, right, and you're both in medicine and I can really see…

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: We also studied engineering before medicine together. 


DOUGLAS AND PHILLIP GRIFFITHS:  It's like the same, Phil and I did athletics and when we competed at a regional event we were in two different heats for I think it was 200 metres and we got the exact same time down to a thousandth of a second.  And then we also did, hard to believe, shotput, got the same result.  High jump, we'd always have the same PBs.   If there was any difference between us physically it would be minute, minuscule.  Like even when we went to state athletics for the walk he beat me by point 01-- I came 8th and got a ribbon for being top eight in the state and Phil came 9th, like point 01 of a second. You know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So again for the researchers here, I mean this is really interesting, isn't it, I mean how much of physical ability is genetic, I mean how much academic ability is genetic?  Who'd like to buy in on that? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Yeah, I think as we look at the different aspects of personality and health and physical ability we can, we can make those comparisons between the identical and fraternal twins and realise that genetics counts more for some conditions and a lot less for others. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Aeden and Adelaide, you're fraternal non identical twins. How do you two go at school? 

AEDEN LIAS:  I'm not really good at spelling but I am good at history and a bit of drawing.  Adelaide's really good at drawing and I write books and Adelaide's helped me with one book and I've got dyslexia and Adelaide doesn't. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what do you like Adelaide? 

ADELAIDE LIAS: I also like drawing as Aeden but I think I'm a little bit better than him, if he doesn't mind me saying that. We both enjoy doing mainly the same things but some things I'm better at like spelling and reading and, no, not history, you're good at history. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Bryan Byrne, what do all these twins stories tell us about academic performance and where that comes from.

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND:  About 3,000 families throughout the country have been gracious enough to let us have access to the NAPLAN scores. I'm not at all surprised that the identical twins are often reporting very similar grades but that in itself is not especially inform interview in the nature nurture kind of question. We need to compare that to the similarity of the fraternal twins because they're growing up in the same household and subject to the same kind of family support and so on, the things that are often regarded at really crucial for educational attainment. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And are you studying twins who are also going to the same schools and in the same classes? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: We are. What we're finding is that the heritability, the kind of thing that Nancy was referring to, the quantitative estimates you can put on the heritability. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is what's genetic, what's inherited? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: What's genetic, for the NAPLAN varies between about 50 and 75 percent of the differences amongst children's performance can be traced back to genetic differences which leaves a fair bit for the environment. So if you have a pair of identical twins who have separate teachers, they're nevertheless about the same as identical twins who have the same teacher which undermines the idea that a really, really big player in how well children are doing is sort of teacher qualifications and teacher's education. We think that teachers are performing in a much more even-handed job than is often kind of portrayed in the media.  The genes are the things that are, for the most part, driving differences amongst children and not different teachers or even different schools. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's a big thing to call actually, it's got quite significant, well it's got significant implications for parents as well. I mean if you're saying that a lot of it is driven by genes? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: It has, it does. In terms of the overall pictures of the role that teachers in driving differences amongst children, it's much less than most people think and much less than is kind of promoted in the media, for example. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, teachers, jump on social media right now and have your say about this. I mean the other point I'd make is you know how good a measure is NAPLAN of ability anyway because that's debatable as well, isn't it? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: Yeah, so while there's debate about what the NAPLAN's measuring, it seems to be measuring the same kinds of things that an educational psychologist would want to measure. Of course it doesn't look at history and art and music and things like that, it is restricted. But insofar as it does look at things like reading and numeracy, we think it's doing a pretty good job. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I want to get some response on this because you two have been looking very interested in it. Jennifer, you're a deputy school principal and an identical twin yourself, Julie's there beside you. You're also Abbie and Emily's mum. What do you think of this study? 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE:  Well I think it's very interesting and you know, when I get my own children's NAPLAN results they are remarkably similar and it does give me a good sort of picture of how they're going in terms of literacy and numeracy but as was said, it really doesn't give me the whole sort of gauge on how my children are going at school.

When Abbie and Emily were in year 3 they were separated for the first time and that was sort of against my wishes but I let the school do it because the school thought it was the right thing to do. But I had this terrible feeling that I would be disadvantaging one over the other because maybe one would get a better teacher than the other, but their NAPLAN results were almost identical in that year. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Very interesting, it bears out exactly what Bryan's saying? 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE:  Certainly, certainly. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I should point out your twin sister Julie is also a deputy school principal so is that in the genes as well? 

JULIE PERKINS:  Well we both always wanted to be teachers so just something that happened. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Aeden, you write books? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And you want to do that for a living? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you want to do that for a living? 

AEDEN LIAS:  Because if, I mostly do it to like help people and sort of to make kids interested but one of my books, it's…  People know I have dyslexic, that's, go and call me dyslexia.  If I had a book like that in school that would really help me with my dyslexia and I have a, twin book and it's about how me and Adelaide are similar but different at the same time so this is like really good for twins. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How many books have you written? 

AEDEN LIAS: Eight so far. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What have you been told about your dyslexia? 

AEDEN LIAS:  That I have dyslexia and I, that I'm going to have a bit of trouble but I'm, most dyslexic people usually do good when they're out of school. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Bryan, what does Aeden's story tell you, I mean these two are twins, fraternal twins, what does it tell you about environment? I mean you've got someone with dyslexia who is writing books? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: Well that's great. I mean I think one of the things that people who do research using twins and trying to get a handle on the nature and nurture question is what we don't want people to think is that genes are deterministic, that your destiny is in your genes and I think it's fantastic that Aeden is in a sense coming to grips with his problem, the most highly heritable of the NAPLAN results that we're finding.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And genes aren't destiny Bryan we need to make that very clear? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Alex and Doug, you mentioned earlier you've lived your lives believing you're fraternal twins despite the fact that you look so alike? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN:  Yeah, no one believes us when we tell them we're fraternal. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And that you get identical marks. Now you agreed to take a DNA test for us? 





DOUG DUNN: I think - we think we are fraternal. That is what the doctors told us when we were born, but it is interesting to see it is possible without a detailed investigation to have a set of identical twins who would think they are fraternal. I suppose that is what could have happened for us. It probably wouldn't change how I feel about myself or how I feel about Alex. It would just be an interesting scientific point. Who knows, maybe it would mean something to know that maybe that explains why we respond to certain situations the same way. Until we find out, it is hard to know how I would react.


JENNY BROCKIE:   How are you feeling about the results? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: Until just then I wasn't going to tell. A little bit apprehensive, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well I've got the results and we got them through just yesterday and they show that there is a 99.999998 percent chance that you're identical twins. 



JENNY BROCKIE:  Which basically means you're identical twins? 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: A lot of nines, there you go, wow. I'm genuinely surprised.  I've spent 24 years believing I'm fraternal and that we're no more similar than any other brother or sister or sibling, or whatever, and I know, that's incredibly surprising. I was convinced it was going to say fraternal. We took the test and just going along with it, but I, I don't know, I suppose if you've always been told you're one thing and then you find out you're something else then I suppose it's different . But as I said in the video, ultimately I don't feel it makes a huge difference, I am still the same person, Alex is still the same person. Wow, we are who we are. Just because what your genes say you are doesn't actually change anything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Does it make a difference. It sounds like it's, you know…

ALEX DUNN:   Well no, he's right, it doesn't change my identity or anything else. It just mean I need to rethink a lot of conversations I've had with people. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   So a few people to ring tomorrow? 

ALEX DUNN: No, we're not identical, we're fraternal and now I need to go and apologise to a lot of people. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Bryan, to what extent does it explain the extraordinary identical academic record these two have? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: Well it's certainly consistent with all the results that we've got. So it's a valuable piece of information but by itself, without the fraternal comparison, it doesn't sort the nature nurture problem very well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you hope that the results of your twin study might be used? 

PROFESSOR BRYAN BYRNE: It's important I think for the education system to understand that genes matter and that there's a lot of discussion about a lot of environmental things like sleep and TV watching and social media and toxins in the environment and so on. And they matter but it's too simplistic by half to think that they're going to be the things that if you fix it's going to produce a level playing field for all children. It's not at all the teachers don't make a difference. What we think is that teachers don't make a difference for differences amongst children as much. Teachers really matter. But I think it's good news for teachers that within this country anyway the quality of training is similar enough and good enough to produce rather even-handed effects on the children who are your charges.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Nancy Segal, just run us through some other human traits that you're finding might have a strong genetic component via twin studies? 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  General intelligence, brain waves, personality traits, social attitudes, recreational interests, we've mentioned religiosity, job satisfaction, voting behaviour. Probably the only one that has not shown a strong genetic component is how quickly or slowly we fall in love. And I also want to comment on the twins I see on the screen right now who just learned that they were identical when in fact they thought they were fraternal and I have to say that here from the US looking at them across the ocean, I thought you guys were identical, I really did. 

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: You're not the first to say that. 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  And I think that while it surprises you now and you say it's not going to change your identity, and it probably won't in a lot of ways, I think what it will do though is to rewrite some of your memories. Certain things you've interpreted one way may now be interpreted another way.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay.  Just out of interest, Anna and Lucy did you fall with the boyfriend at the same time? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  I think, yeah, I think after the first kiss we both knew.  Yeah, I think he's the one. He's the one we really like him. We really like him definitely. Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Liking is one thing but love? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Yes, loving as well. At the same time. We do see a future with him, definitely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you talk about the fact that you were falling in love with…

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: In the beginning, yes.  Do you like him? Yes, we do. And then love him? Yeah, yeah. 

MALE: What happens if you want to get married? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: I don't know if we can.  Maybe if we go to India or somewhere. I don't know we can - maybe a commitment ceremony. He gets us a lot of rings and we think that's special to us. So…

JENNY BROCKIE:   All the same rings? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:   Yeah, all the same rings. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So he has to get double the rings? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: He's going broke, going broke. So yeah, he has to get double of everything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, just quickly any of this stuff strike a chord with any of the other twins here? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  With talking about the genetics and getting sick and how you might attribute with Doug and myself where I get sick a lot more often than he does. We went on holidays in New Zealand and I got, we were sharing drink bottles, staying in the same room as each other, cooking each other's food. Even something happened with my bed so we even had to share a bed. So we were literally sharing everything on that trip. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you got sick and he didn't? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  And I got sick. I got a tonsillitis really bad and nasal infection and he was completely fine. Completely fine. Even after he got sick, it happened before, I said my immune system's better than yours, still continued to share drink bottles and was perfectly fine. And a couple of years ago I got glandular fever, I was bed ridden for about a month and a half and my parents said oh Doug, go get a blood test. Just because you spend so much time, see if you have glandular fever as well and I went down and it turns out I had glandular fever first… And I caught it off him. And gave it to him. But he didn't show symptoms and I did.

ALEX DUNN: Something else which is interesting which I think is related to what Nancy was saying in Los Angeles, now we know that we're fraternal…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Identical. 

ALEX DUNN:  We're identical, yeah, I got to get used to that, that's going to take a little bit of time. I was born with a congenital condition in my knee which, it's not serious or anything, it's uncommon and I have it but Douglas doesn't.  And it's not a well studied condition because it's not particularly significant but people aren't sure whether it is genetic or whether it is environmental and just something that people don't have an answer to because it hasn't been studied enough.  And the fact that we're identical now that could reveal something very interesting associated with the condition and I think I'm probably going to get in touch with my orthopaedic surgeon who asked us to get a DNA test more than ten years ago and finally we've got it.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   Would you like me to give you this? 


DOUG DUNN:  You never know there's a 0.000000 percent chance that we're fraternal so yeah, it could be handy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Dean Hamer in Honolulu, you study the genetics of sexual preference. What are twins telling you about that? 

DR DEAN HAMER:  Well people have been studying sexual orientation in twins since the 1950's and the answer quite consistently is that being gay or lesbian is definitely a part of your genes. Genes are a very important factor, not the only factor but they play a really major role. So if a gay guy has an identical twin or a lesbian has an identical twin, that identical twin has about a 50 percent chance of being gay or lesbian which is much higher than in the general population which tells you genes are important. But of course it's also not 100 percent.  Phillip and Douglas can attest to that so that means that genes aren't the only factor that's involved, it's clear that there's a bit more than that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What more is there than that, what are the other factors involved? 

DR DEAN HAMER:  Epigenetics and these are changes in the expression of DNA that don't actually alter its sequence so they're not directly inherited, they wouldn't show up as the same in twins but they can still act at a genetic level and affect basic processes in the brain and ultimately who we fall in love with. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, so you're saying that it could be the effect of environmental factors on the genes? 

DR DEAN HAMER:  Well, yes, but when we say environmental factors we don't mean the usual what you ate or how your parents treated or which church you went to. We're talking about environmental factors that might be the precise hormonal milieu inside the womb or other factors that we don't even really know about yet. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you think of that? 

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: It's fascinating to hear about that it is in the genes but being identical twins how that can be so different as well, a massive question we get when people find out they say oh, if Phillip's gay, why aren't you? So I don't think that's how it works. We never, we never get the question…

PHILLIP GRIFFITHS:  Or the worst one is like the third time but Doug, are you sure you're not? Sure Phil is but are you sure?

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  And I never get asked like Doug if you're straight, why isn't Phil, don't get that question. 





JENNY BROCKIE:   That was great, thank you. It must be weird performing in front of a room full of twins? 

PAT AND JACK PIERCE: We were just saying we're never before this conscious that the fact that we're a twin before. It's insane. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now when did you first realise you could sing together? 

PAT AND JACK PIERCE: It happened in primary school and our teacher. Mrs Barrett wasn't it? Came, she was looking for people in the choir and she kind of just pulled me out, whoever friends I was with then, and said, sing.  I thought alright. Everyone just sort of sung a bit. We sung and then she sort of noticed that we sang well together and we were just, we didn't really know how to sing harmonies but we just naturally did. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Just straight away? 

PAT AND JACK PIERCE: Yeah, it just fit together.  It just seemed better if we did… If we did in unison. Better just to sing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How would you be solo? 

PAT AND JACK PIERCE: Hopeless. Rubbish, like we could always sing together but as a solo voice you don't have particularly remarkable voices.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Sarah, you're studying whether a singing ability is inherited. Why? 

PROFESSOR SARAH WILSON, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE:  Well, for this very reason, that we don't know why and it's another complex skill that tells us things that are unique about being human. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you're using twins to find that out? 

PROFESSOR SARAH WILSON:  Correct. So there's no study yet that's looked at whether or not singing ability is heritable. Just in the last little while with the shift in genetic research, this explosion of knowledge, there's been about twenty to thirty studies.  So it's pretty early on, the field is in its infancy but it's really pointing to genetic factors and I guess we're not surprised by that, again for all the reasons that we've talked about. And the area that's coming out as perhaps most interesting is in pitch. So that's that ability to sing in tune or to hear small differences, something's out of tune, tune in or tune out to each other, and that's where the strongest research is pointing to which we know is a very specific music skill. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And saying that pitch is, there's a strong genetic component in pitch? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  What else, what else have you found has a genetic component? I mean there's some interesting studies around the amount you practice? 

PROFESSOR SARAH WILSON:  Yeah, this is kind of the twist in this recent story which is quite interesting. So it used to be this idea that if you just did all this practice, but as it turns out there's just two recent studies that have come out that suggest that how much you practice is also genetically determined.  So they'll bring out, if you have a latent pitch ability and then you have a propensity to practice, these two things will interact. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How would you like to use the research, what you would like to see come out of it? 

PROFESSOR SARAH WILSON:  When we think about music ability as a whole it's not just one ability, it's many abilities. So there's pitch, there's rhythm, there's the harmony, there's the emotional aspects and what we can do in these complex skills is begin to tease these things apart, understand what might have a stronger genetic drive, what might be more environmentally determined and how one may interact with the other, and so produce better educational programs. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Thank you so much.  Take your seats again.  Nancy, do twin studies get regularly debunked like health and diet studies often do?  I mean, you know, for the average person listening to this, you know, should they wonder whether it will all be turned on its head again in another twenty years? 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  I think that one of the problems is too much of this conversation of a gene for this or a gene for that and that's not really the way things work. Most complex traits are influenced by many, many genes, each of them very small effect. But I think now we're really at a point where people understand that there's a balance between nature and nurture and we really should not even phrase it as a dichotomy any more, it's not nature or nurture, it's how nature and nurture work together.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What's the next frontier for twins' research around behaviour? 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  One of the ones that has really interested me lately is in decision making and behavioural economics, people using twins now to understand the basis of financial decisions, financial risk, philanthropy.  Epigenetic research is certainly another. The idea of identical twins differing in disease or in some sort of other behaviour, what about it turns on genes or triggers them in one twin and keeps them silent in another and one of the twins here, I think it was the ones who thought they were fraternal and ended up being identical, one mention a knee problem. Now what's fascinating is that identical twins are not exactly the same and in fact for many, many diseases and medical conditions they could not show perfect similarity, for example in diabetes.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well that's one of the things we're going to talk about next week because there's heaps more to talk about, about twins, and we are going to continue this next week and look at what twins can teach us all about our health.  Thanks everyone. Thank you.  


Part 2.


JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everybody, good to have you with us again. Brenton and Craig, you're identical twins.  Now Brenton five years ago you were having chronic headaches, how bad were they? 

BRENTON GURNEY: Oh, they were just persistent and on-going and I was concerned about them.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you decided to join a twin studies because it involved an MRI and you could get that done as part of the study? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Yeah, that's right, it was a four part, I think the cheek thing and they had, you know, the DNA testing and they had different sort of testing that they were doing and part of it was the MRI which I thought that's a great opportunity to get a free one. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Check out your headache? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   What did the scan show? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  The scan showed that I was all clear, there was problems at all which surprised me to be honest. I just had this I gut feeling that something was wrong.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Craig, were you getting headaches as well? 

CRAIG GURNEY: No, I was perfectly fine. I was living the dream. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So were you as keen as Brenton to have the scan? 

CRAIG GURNEY: No, not at all. I thought was a little bit full on and, but he advised obviously that he was a bit concerned and he might, might uncover something that could be important so I went along with him. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did your scan show? 

CRAIG GURNEY: It wasn't a good result. It showed a tumour, I guess the size of almost a tennis ball in the middle of my head. So it was actually a one in 4 million type rare bone cancer called a clival chordoma and it was growing at the back of the nose and going directly into my brain stem. So it was, it was a concern, doctors were very concerned, they acted with great urgency and that was confronting because I had a young family, two young girls at the time.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Brenton, how did you react? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Oh, I mean it floors you when you know, your best mate, the person you love in life, is diagnosed with something like that.  It with as horrible time personally for me and also some sense of guilt that I wanted it to be me, or I'd rather it be me than him. So that was…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, that's interesting. Was that a very strong feeling that you had? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Very much, very much. I would have much rather swap places with him. 

CRAIG GURNEY: Yeah, but I convinced him that you know I was the first to do most of the wrong things in life and first to get married and, you know, why shouldn't I be the first to get cancer? So the thing is things are in place, you know, just the way they're meant to be and to just wait for me and I'll be back. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you've been successfully treated? 

CRAIG GURNEY: Yeah.  Obviously it was a pretty enduring process, I had a twelve hour neurosurgery and that followed by, you know, extensive radiation and really it goes back to, you know, thanks, I mean to being involved in the Twin Registry.  You know, it was, funny, one of - a lady said before are you in the Twin Registry and I thought to myself well, if I wasn't, I probably wouldn't be here. so, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you think of it as being connected? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Yeah, I'm a bit of a sceptic. There’s been a number of occasions we've had through our lives where there's been things that have happened and mum talks about how one of us would fall out of the high chair and the other one would be absolutely, you know, going off their head and the other person on the ground would just be pretty fine.  And there's times where we got, one of us got hurt in soccer and the other person was, you know, two hours away and knew that there'd been a problem. And you know, I'd developed this anaphylactic reaction to something up in Cairns and my brother started having a rash back in Sydney. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you have any physical symptoms while he was having the radiation treatment? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  No, no, nothing like that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And did your headaches go away? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Well, I think they probably alleviated a little bit but I wouldn't say, like I said I'm the sceptic so I'm not going to say no there. But there's been, there's been a lot of things in our lives that draw that connection. It's normally Craig feeling my symptoms more so than…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Than you feeling his? 

BRENTON GURNEY:  Than me feeling his. 

CRAIG GURNEY: I just care more. 

BRENTON GURNEY:  So yeah, and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  We're starting up this same thing that was happening last week, I can feel it. John Hopper, you're the head of the Australian Twin Registry and you lead twin studies into cancer. How do you explain something like that? I mean is it just a coincidence or there something in it?

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER, AUSTRALIAN TWIN REGISTRY:  There's any serious science to back it up but it's certainly something that twins report and so we have to take it seriously. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what are you finding out about cancer by studying twins? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Oh, heaps, talked last week about the similarities of twins and how similar monozygotic identical twins were and compared that to fraternal twins. And last week we talked about epigenetics, epigenetics is the way the environment changes the way our genes work.  So we have the genetic code, the identical twins share the same genetic code but they don't always end up perfectly the same in everything. And this epigenetics is a really wonderful new tool to look at the way the environment is changing, the way our genes actually work, and so we study twins and we studied new born twins.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Lisa, you and Nicole are also identical twins. What happened when Nicole was pregnant? 

LISA PHILLIPS:  Nicole's living in Sydney, I was living in Melbourne and this is really embarrassing, I can't believe I'm just about to say this in public. I started lactating, so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When she was pregnant? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   For how long? 

LISA PHILLIPS: Oh, for months, months and months. 



JENNY BROCKIE:  For the whole time she was breast feeding? 

LISA PHILLIPS:  Yes, yes, and then the same thing happened when I was pregnant, to Nicole. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You started lactating when she was pregnant? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   How do our experts explain that, John? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Well, I mean that's all I can say is, isn't that fascinating but it shows how the twins have given us an example of something that we don't understand. That's the important point about what twins are telling us. It's telling us about what it is to be human. It's not about twins, it's telling us about there's something about lactation which is not due just to having a baby. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And we don't fully understand what that other thing about it is? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Yeah. So I think that's an example again of how twins open up new doors. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Nicole, tell us about your backs? 

NICOLE FLOOD:  We both had back surgery within three months of each other. Both had lumbar discectomies. Lisa was first, she was in about eighteen months ago and I followed suit three months later. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Was it the same disk that was the problem? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   In your back? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   At the same time? 

NICOLE FLOOD:  Well Lisa presented symptoms and I didn't so, and all of a sudden I was like oh, my gosh, what's happened? 

LISA PHILLIPS:  So I had surgery and then you a few months later, yeah, you had surgery.

NICOLE FLOOD:  I didn't actually physically do anything to put my back out or anything. 

LISA PHILLIPS: Whereas I did because I lifted a lot of shopping in my suitcase in Hong Kong. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So did you have different doctors? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And so they came to the same conclusion about what you needed to do? 

NICOLE FLOOD: Yes, yeah, it was basically, there was no other option but to have surgery for both of us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   For both of you? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and has the outcome been the same? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Oh, that's interesting. What's happened?   

LISA PHILLIPS:  We both work for the same company so we do the same sort of job. I'm in Melbourne, Nicole's in Sydney as I said and after the surgery Nicole was given a stand-up desk and I wasn't. So I'm still in a lot of pain, I'm still on pain killers and still dealing with the issues essentially whereas Nicole isn't. 

NICOLE FLOOD:  I'm pretty much almost 100 percent. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have there been other health things for both of you in your lives? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Such as, that are similar? 

NICOLE FLOOD:  The Dermoid, we both had Dermoid cysts during our pregnancies. 

LISA PHILLIPS:  On our left ovary. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Same place? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Anything else? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   You don't want you to feel inadequate about this at all, you know? So Paulo, you're studying back pain via twins, why, and what do you think about this story? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAULO FERREIRA, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY:  The story of these girls is sensational because here we are in front of an identical pair of twins and you know, they grew up together, they have probably the same genes, they developed the same condition, they had the same treatment but the outcome is different. So we were getting more and more interested about why the identical twins develop back pain more in common than fraternal twins but here we are in front of a totally different issue which is the response to treatment.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What have you found about back pain? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAULO FERREIRA:  The more serious the condition becomes, then you have more influence of genes and I guess, I mean these guys are so important for our research because if you come across twins that are different for something, so it's looking differently at the same situation.  So it's not similarities but difference, then I can find out why they are different. So I know that the genes are important but I keep them sort of under control, but the fact that one developed back pain and the other one doesn't is telling me that maybe there's something in the environment that is modifiable is actually causing that. So they do have…

JENNY BROCKIE:   That could stop other people from getting back pain? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAULO FERREIRA: That's right. So I mean they do have the same type of jobs, for example, but one of them, for example, was telling me, I think it was Nicole was telling me that has a sit-up…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Stand-up desk? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAULO FERREIRA:  A stand-up desk that, that she feels better but the other one doesn't.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You're a very interesting case study you two, you do realise this, don't you? Do you do twin studies? 

NICOLE FLOOD AND LISA PHILLIPS: No, we never have.  We live in different states so…

JENNY BROCKIE:   I'm sure something can be arranged, put you together later. John, what does in the genes mean? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Genes is about, we talk about genes cause things but really they're all about susceptibility. So for example, coming back to cancer, genes don't actually cause cancer, it's the environment or the radiation or some factors we don't know about that trigger cells to not replicate properly, for errors to occur. The genes come into play by trying to fix those mistakes. So in terms of eventually ending up with a cancer, genes are important but they play a role, genes are actually there to stop us getting cancer, that when they have mistakes they leave us vulnerable to cancer. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now what does that mean then for Brenton, say, as an identical twin? I mean is he, I hope you don't mind me asking this in front of you, is he at an increased risk? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Well yes.  Generally for most conditions, most diseases, twins are at greater, if one twin has the disease that increases the likelihood that the other twin will have it. It's not 100 percent. It's 50 percent or 20 percent or something. 

JENNY BROCKIE: It's not inevitable? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  And that's where our work, we're funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, our job for the Australian Twin Registry is to make a difference to the health of Australians and the twins have a tremendous unique way of giving us information, that can give us information that flows out to the rest of the population. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Marlene and Angela, you're mirror twins. Marlene, you're right handed, Angela you're left handed. How similar are you? 

MARLENE CROCKETT AND ANGELA RALPH: Correct. Very similar. Well looks, we're similar, our thought processes probably similar, our humour is similar. We sound similar, yeah. Yeah we're pretty similar. Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Marlene, when did you discover that you had breast cancer? 

MARLENE CROCKETT: Actually Angela and I were on a holiday to New Zealand and we were lying there one night and for some reason, I don't know why, I sort of looked down, I said oh, look I've got a lump there and I said come and feel this Ang and she come over and she said oh gee Marlene, you may need to get that checked.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What type of cancer was it when you had it checked out? 

MARLENE CROCKETT: It was an atypical medullary, yeah, medullary cancer, aggressive, stage 3 which meant that I had to have chemotherapy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Angela, what was it like when Marlene told you she had breast cancer? 

ANGELA RALPH: There was no panic, I kind of felt incredibly sad because I felt that she was in a good place in her life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And she wanted you to get a check-up? 

ANGELA RALPH: Oh, that's right. She was ringing me every day, every day, have you been yet?  Have you rung yet?  Have you made an appointment yet?  I said Marlene I will do it, I promise you I will do it so it took me, I don't know, she was probably on the phone for about two weeks until I eventually made that call. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what happened when you had the check-up? 

ANGELA RALPH:  I had ductal carcinoma in situ which is not as drastic, if you like, as Marlene's but that I would require surgery and they would take it from there. So I then went on to have the surgery. I didn't require chemotherapy.  I then had to endure the radiation along with Marlene. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was your reaction when you found out that you had cancer as well? 

ANGELA RALPH: Well this is probably not a normal reaction but I kind of smiled at the doctor and gave a little giggle and I said oh, this has become a twin thing, you know? I said I have an identical twin who had just been diagnosed and he said that's why you gave that reaction?  And I said yes, that's why, because it had become a twin thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you go through the treatment together at the same time? 

ANGELA RALPH: Um, surgery was not that far apart. Marlene was going through chemotherapy and then when that finished my radiation started at exactly the same. 

MARLENE CROCKETT: We caught up, so caught up. 

ANGELA RALPH: We caught up in our treatment. So our radiation treatment was at the same time, at the same hospital. They put us on different machines because they didn't want to confuse us, they made different appointment times for us, Marlene would go in the morning, I would go in my lunch break because I worked close to the hospital and it was always fascinating that I, you know, that I was there just after Marlene. So yeah, we went through that together. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how are you both now?

MARLENE CROCKETT: Good, good, yeah, we're now, we've been given, well I think the all clear, five years now. Five years. So just now regular, you know, yearly check-ups, we're down to that.  So yeah, no, I think we're doing okay.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jennifer, you're here with your twin Julie and we talked to you last week about teaching but I want to talk to you about health this week. Because Jennifer, you had breast cancer but Julie didn't. When was it diagnosed? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And before that what were your medical histories like?  Were they similar or different? 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE:  Pretty much similar. We'd both had thyroid problems in the past. Julie actually developed that in our teenage years I was quite a few years after her. So we did have that in common but otherwise very healthy, yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Julie, how did you react to the diagnosis, to Jennifer's diagnosis? 

JULIE PERKINS:  I can relate to the feelings of guilt. I felt really guilty that it wasn't me. It was horrific, horrendous. It was the time when I needed to be away from her actually because I coped better if I didn't see it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why did you feel the guilt? 

JULIE PERKINS:  Because I couldn't understand why it happened to her and not me. Sorry, I still can't talk about it without crying. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, no, that's okay, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. Are you alright? 

JULIE PERKINS:  It was really, really tough. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Given that you are identical, did you have any thoughts about why it might be that one of you…

JULIE PERKINS: I blame the alcohol, Jennifer drinks, I don't. No, I'm kidding, I have taken it up since.  But no, I mean we grew up in the same home, we went to the same school, we did all the same things, it's very difficult to explain. Perhaps the fact that Jennifer had identical twins herself, the hormones, who knows? She did a lot of breast pumping when she was a new mum that I didn't do, I had my children a couple of years younger than her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you've gone through a lot of things in your mind? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   John, what do these stories tell us about breast cancer because you're particularly interested in that in relation to twins? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Firstly I tell you how lucky these people are to have a twin. Tom Mack in the United States has done some fascinating research.  We think that early life events, much earlier than what you're talking about, especially around the time that breasts develop might be very important for breast cancer risk and he did a very special study where he asked twins to report on each other. Who went through puberty first, who developed their breasts first, who was taller, who was heavier, and these factors differentiated the twins who went on, like the pair we've just been talking to where one got breast cancer and the other didn't.

So we could never have done a study like that by asking people questions about their age at puberty and what they were because we just would get not informative questions, not informative answers, but by having twins who would be, and you can tell me if that's true or not, aware of what those issues were at the time of your life during that incredibly important development of breasts stage and they can answer questions and give us microscopes on what's going on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was found, what has been found? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Well it basically was telling us that for twins who get breast cancer, who are at increased genetic risk of getting breast cancer, then the timing of these pubertal developments are really critical in that risk - in explaining the risk of breast cancer. We went back and looked at the twins, the new born twins and found that they were almost identical in this risk factor when they were born. And very interestingly, the monozygotic pairs and the fraternal pairs were just the same, there was no difference this time. So it wasn't genetic factors but they were incredibly similar and what had they done? They had shared the womb for the last nine months. So suddenly we realised that this risk factor for breast cancer in later life, part of that is being determined at birth. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Or pre-birth? 

PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  Before birth, yes. And then we looked at the very old twins I mentioned before and we found that they are still correlated and it's not perfectly correlated.  Again there's no difference between monozygotic pairs and dizygotic pairs so it's not genetics, but this risk that's set up during that incredibly important time in the womb stays with a woman to the main extent throughout her lifetime.  It's changing the way genes behave. It turns them on and off and Jeff, this is his area of expertise and he could probably tell you a little bit more about that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jeff, can you fill us in? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Yes, researchers around the world are beginning to, over the last ten years, realise that what happens in the womb can last a lifetime. There's a number of factors we're slowly understanding about those factors. Shared factors like smoking and drinking, but also that the next frontier is what happens to each individual twin in the womb. Each twin has its own sack, it's own cord and it's own at least share of placenta and there are a large number of ways in which those two can differ. Just think of length of cord, curliness, how big the placenta is, how fast each twin grows, they could even compete in the womb. Very under studied area and it really, it's the current frontier at the moment?

JACK PIERCE: Do you think something like twin transfer, when a baby's born and all the blood is transferred from one to the other, which happened to us,  would that affect this same kind of thing you're talking about?

PAT PIERCE: Because we grew up, Jack always had asthma and I never did. 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:  So twin/twin transfusion syndrome is where two twins share a placenta and they're so close that the blood vessels join and in some cases it's unequal joining and one twin starts pumping blood into the other.  But yes, so that could cause some early differences between, between of two you.

My colleagues and I at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute have been following twins since they were in the womb, halfway through pregnancy, following them up and weighing them, measuring them and asking them questions about their health from when they were, when they were 18 months and now six years old and we just, the study's in progress but we're very carefully measuring these children, asking their parents what's happened to them.  And we really hope to gain an insight, even we're going even further back and asking how fast they grew in the womb as well. We go right the way back and asking every little bit of information that we collect. We're going to ask for how does that relate to say, how obese they were at age six and age ten and then hopefully keep, if we've got the funding, keep following them through life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anna and Lucy, I'm interested in what you think about listening to all of this because in a way you're trying to stop the process from happening that changes, anything changing you two. You want to stay identical, exactly the same, right down to measuring your food. 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  I want my body to look like hers, like we want our diets to be exactly the same. We weigh the same. Yeah, we just want everything to be the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did think of that, as researchers? I mean…

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:  It's a fantastic experiment and again a natural experiment and I'm not advocating other people do this but it's, it's really fascinating and it would be interesting to see whether this makes your epigenetics more similar. 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: And it would be crazy if I got pregnant, she would need -- I would make sure I got pregnant. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That was what I was going to ask you because that is something with one boyfriend you cannot do at the same time? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Yeah, well if she got pregnant I'd make sure I got pregnant. And if I didn't, hey I don't know, like what's it called, the IVF? Yeah, I'd make sure it happens for our boy, like both the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you would actually make sure that you both were…

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Pregnant at the same time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Pregnant at exactly the same time? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Yeah, he's got a lot of work. He needs twice the energy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you serious that that's what you want to do? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Yeah, if I got pregnant she wants me to get pregnant. We have to be the same, has to be the same, same body, so... 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, how would you feel if you had your babies on different days? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  I think we'd handle that but just have to be pregnant at the same time. Yeah, we just want to be the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's just, one more question about health, you must have had times when one of you has got a cold and the other one hasn't? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  Yeah, but then the next day she would get it. Yeah, I would get it, yeah I would get it the next day. I knew I was going to get sick, so. 


PROFESSOR JOHN HOPPER:  So this is fascinating. This is where the opportunities come in for researchers. So we studied twins and tried to find twins where one smoked and the other didn’t and we had a lot of twins to study but we eventually found twenty pairs and they'd smoked, one smoked for twenty years and the other didn't. One of them said the reason they smoked and the other one didn't was the husband wouldn't let her smoke because she wanted to smoke. So we used that difference and we found, we measured their bone density and we found that of those twenty pairs, seventeen of them, the smoker had worse bone strength than the non-smoker.  So that's an example of how we get insight into the role of the environment by using the differences. So you're actually mucking us up by being so similar. But you're actually a fascinating experiment there in that regard. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you done twin studies? 

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE: Never.  We want to. I'd be too scared because if we were different -- That would upset us and no, I don't know we would, because it would upset us even more. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you want to study them? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG: I'd love to study them, with their consent of course. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yes, of course, of course. Stephanie, I want to talk to you because you had anorexia as a teenager? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you to tell us a little bit about that, how old were you and…

STEPHANIE KNOWLES:  I was diagnosed and hospitalised in very quick succession when I was, just before my fourteen are 14th birthday in 2005 I guess that makes it, and suffered chronically till I was about 19, 20. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you think there was a trigger for it of some kind? 

STEPHANIE KNOWLES: Yeah, I do.  I mean I recognise genetic components as being risk factors, but of course there has to be things that - nothing develops in a vacuum so of course people usually rack through their brain when they go through any illness or something different from other people and go why did this happen? And the only real thing is I can think of is I reacted a certain way to try and control the circumstances surrounding puberty for me. In puberty, we changed locations so we moved house, we moved towns, schools, so just all that change at one time for some reason at that point in my life didn't sit well with me and it was my mechanic, my way of controlling rather. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Brittany, you're identical twins? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   How did Stephanie's anorexia affect you, or did it affect you? 

BRITTANY WATT:  I actually felt something quite profound when, I don't know which one of you is speaking, but you said that you had to be away and that you, I couldn't look at her, to see her so sick with actually, it was sickening.  Like she was being re-fed against her will so she was being destroyed from the inside while being bedridden against her will.  It was just like the ultimate torture to watch and you love this person and you know how crap that must be and you just can't do anything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did you react because you'd developed an eating disorder too?  Was that at the same time or was it later? 

BRITTANY WATT:  It was like I'd just really like to be taken care of the way Stephanie's being taken care of. And so I reacted by, yeah, I guess developing very similar controlling tendencies around food. I suffered with rapid weight loss followed by on-going bulimic episodes in my teens and I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:   And depression? 

BRITTANY WATT:  Depression especially. So I was clinically diagnosed 16 or something.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You say you felt crap for a long time about yourself? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Is that right? 

BRITTANY WATT:  Yeah, like body image, self-worth, a sense of accomplishment that was like jaded by the fact that it was never good enough. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well you described it as self-loathing as well, yeah? 

BRITTANY WATT:  Yeah, like a self-loathing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you feel that at all Stephanie? 

STEPHANIE KNOWLES:  I think, in my experience I felt like eating disorders are almost depression and anxiety, they're involved, it's all sort of caught up, and especially when I, with more anxiety I think, especially in recovery.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you're both part of a study that's looked into this, that's looked into eating disorders. Why did you take part in that study?  What do you want to know?

 STEPHANIE KNOWLES:  For me it was really and actually even now it's actually more important to try and inform better treatment.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tracey, you ran that twin study on anorexia and bulimia. What are you finding? 

PROFESSOR TRACEY WADE, FLINDERS UNIVERSITY:  Well we're finding that, like a lot of the things we've discussed already tonight, it's certainly about 50 percent genetic susceptibility but certainly the environmental triggers are really important. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is that 50 percent genetic susceptibility new information or not? 

PROFESSOR TRACEY WADE: It's, we've known it now for quite a few years but when I first started training in clinical psychology we believed that the family caused eating disorders and so there was a lot of family blame and the treatments at that time, and this is an example of how our understanding impacts on our treatments, our treatments were focused on trying to help the families behave themselves, and to therefore try and cure the eating disorder. So it's really been the last twenty to thirty years that we started to understand that there's a genetic component that's actually, you know, does create the susceptibility. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Which presumably takes a bit of pressure off families? 

PROFESSOR TRACEY WADE:  It does indeed and it actually has impacted on the way we treat people as well. So in terms of adolescent treatment of anorexia nervosa we still do family therapy but it's not a blaming exercise, it's not about changing family dynamics, it's about helping the family develop skills to actually live with a very frightening and difficult disorder. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What else are you finding contributes to these things? 

PROFESSOR TRACEY WADE:  We're looking at specific environmental triggers and we know that certainly puberty is an important trigger for a lot of people.  There's two sort of peak times that people develop eating disorders.  One time is that transition from childhood into adolescence, the other is the transition from adolescence to adulthood and more recent studies have been particularly interested in peer teasing about appearance, and that we know also starts to increase when kids hit puberty and are teenagers and also it's something that is fairly rife on social media. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And is there a link between eating disorders and depression, are you finding anything out about that? 

PROFESSOR TRACEY WADE:  Yes, certainly we think there's a genetic overlap in the risk factors and again like all of the disorders, the complex disorders we've talked about, we're talking about many genes, not just a simple one gene relationship. And there's quite, quite a large degree of overlap in the genetics between major depression and anorexia nervosa.  And I think those disorders often have a lot of the same themes so the feelings of self-loathing, the feeling out of control, the feeling not good enough and often wanting to do things perfectly, but not feeling able to do that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Michael, tell us about your identical twin brother David. 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  Yes, so I'm not sitting next to my twin now, I actually had an identical twin brother who committed suicide, or I think the terminology now is completed suicide when we were 16. So it just came completely out of the blue, we didn't have any family history of, you know, there's no signs, wasn't into drugs, alcohol. Seemed like a happy enough kid. I didn't see it coming at all and I was, you know, we were obviously very, very close. Yeah, sort of just popped up out of nowhere. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How were you similar and how were you different? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  I think, I think I'd like to say that we were extremely different and I hope, I hope that we were really different because the whole time I was craving a sense of individualism that I wasn't getting when David was around. So I would go out of my way to do everything as different as possible, like I was noticing the boys in front of me when they turned around, they both turned around like this or boys next to me both took a sip of water at the same time. I would never do that, like I was actually really self-conscious about all that sort of stuff. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I know this is really hard for you but I also know you want to talk about it. How has David's death affected you? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  So it has been, yeah, obviously it's, there's a lot going on with the death of your twin, as I'm sure you guys can sort of half imagine. Now that I've got this sort of sense of, that you know, I can look back on it and hindsight is 20/20, I can sort of, in my head  it's having a twin is, it felt like I was in an abusive unhealthy relationship. Imagine you've got this person in your life who looks exactly like you, they wear the hair the same way, they dress the same way, but more than that they've got the same circle of friends, you know, their own thoughts, your own personal dialogue and this person has it all. You know, your fears, you're insecurities, it's all repeated and you know, it feels like an invasion of privacy. It feels unhealthy but it's not.

You know, you become so used to having this person in your life it's, it's completely normal for you. You know, you can't imagine life without them; you can't imagine a day without them. You can't imagine, you know, a minute apart, you can't, you know, having different jobs or you know, different boyfriends. It's, it's unthinkable and so when it finally does happen it's - it actually, it took me a long time to admit this to myself but of course it's, you know, devastating and, you know, shakes my whole world but I get these surges of relief that would hit me every couple of months and I'd go God, why am I feeling this way? I wouldn't tell anyone about it. I didn't admit it to myself but I would, I would feel this sense of relief. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of relief? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  I think that was really coming from, it forced not only myself but everyone else to see me as my own man. It gave me a sense of individualism that I wasn't receiving and had never had before. You know, the dialogue about me change, instead of people going oh how are the boys, how are the twins, it's how Michael?  It sounds very selfish but this is like, this is what I was thinking. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  No, it's very honest. 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  Yeah. So in that way I found, I found positives in the death of my brother. It's, yeah, it's made me a stronger person. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you've tried to take positives out of it?  


JENNY BROCKIE:   In a sense? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  And of course I do feel, I have days when I can't get out of bed and words get choked up in my mouth and tears are streaming down my face, you know, semi-regularly, but in these moments I feel so close to my brother, I feel like he's right next to me, right inside me so I find it really warm and sort of enjoyable experience. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've also talked about how confronting it was to you as a twin that he committed suicide. Can you talk a little bit about that, about just the confronting nature of it, what it, the kind of questions you started asking yourself, about yourself?  

MICHAEL CAMERON:  Yes.  Like we've already touched on a little bit, you know, if one twin gets breast cancer does the other one, and if one twin gets a tumour in the brain does the other one?  So it was like oh, God, now am I going to become this depressed suicidal case and no, I haven't been, I'm not like that at all. I'm actually quite a happy sort of confident person except when I have to do public speaking. Yeah, but those questions do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you ask those questions? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  Those questions definitely do loom over me. I do get depressed and get anxiety which I've never had, never had that before, before it happened.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And day-to-day, what's it like living without him? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  It's, it's, it's a challenge every day. You know, I'm not sort of dark and twisted inside 100 percent of the time. Grief is not a competitive sport and it's not one that I want to win. But it's, it's hugely different. As unhealthy and sort of as much as being a twin frustrated me, make no mistake, losing that person is 100 times worse. 

JULIE PERKINS: I can actually relate to what you're saying about wanting to seen as individual because prior to my sister getting sick I really didn't enjoy being a twin that much. It was very competitive for us growing up.  You know, was school captain in primary school; she was school captain in high school. She beat me in this test, I beat her in that test. So I really didn't appreciate being the twin until it all fell apart and then I realised wow, I'm so lucky to be a twin. So I really understand those feelings of craving that individuality growing up because I really felt that too. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anyone else felt that? 

FEMALE: Yeah. 


CRAIG GURNEY:  We were always compared, absolutely through our whole lives we were always compared. Everything was the same, it was always, you know, the Gurney boys and what we were doing as twins and compared in marks and sports and everything, and because we were so similar it was a very easy comparison to make. And I think one of the best things we did was that my brother Brenton actually went to a different high school which really allowed him to branch out, find his own friends, find his own self and have that freedom. So that in a way I think helped us to remain as close as we've been all our lives because we did have that moments of time away from each other as well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have any of the others of you thought about twin loss?

ANNA AND LUCY DECINQUE:  I feel that I wouldn't exist if Anna wasn't around and she feels the same. I think we're lost without each other. If she wasn't, I feel I don't exist, I just would feel completely empty. You know? 

PAT PIERCE:  I've had times when maybe we've gone out and Jack might be driving that night and but then I'd get home first and maybe I'm just having a shower, and you think, you know, Saturday night, oh, what if some car crashes into it and then I just sort of go into this thing where I start thinking oh, my God what would I do? I think maybe it's just something that's…

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN:  So bad with my brother, I'd wake up in sweats some night because I had a dream that he's passed away and it was just, it felt so real. So horrible. It feels so horrible. You wake up the next morning and feel just like Doug, come here, come here. I'd wake him up, I'd go into his room and I'd just have to physically be with him there because I wasn't in any capability to handle thinking about that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nancy, you're doing some twin loss research, aren't you? 

DR NANCY SEGAL:  Yes I am, I have a study on over 750 individual twins who have lost a twin. And what I found is that the loss of an identical twin is somewhat more devastating than the loss of a fraternal twin. The loss is devastating for both types of twins but I think this makes sense because it mirrors what we see in twin relationships when twins are together. I think the more revealing analysis is how does the loss of a twin compare to the loss of other relatives and the loss of the twin comes out above any other loss. What fascinated me that the only one that was comparable was the loss of a spouse.




NOEL EDWARDS:  I think it is great to have a twin in the world. He's got someone that he can blame and I have got someone that says, "No, it is not me. It was him."

GUS EDWARDS: The patriarch of the family.

NOEL EDWARDS: He knows his place. He is second. I am first.

GUS EDWARDS: Only by a bloody hour, but he is the eldest, yeah.

NOEL EDWARDS:  We both have hernias. I've had a hernia on my left-hand side and he's had it on the right-hand side.

GUS EDWARDS: When I look at that, I am looking at Noel and I am bloody ugly and he does the same thing poor bugger. He has to look at that.

NOEL EDWARDS: When we had a schoolboy boxing tournament it turned out that he wanted to be a South Paw which meant that he led with his right and hooked with his left and I am an orthodox boxer, I leads with my left and hooked with my right.

GUS EDWARDS: He smoked like a girl because he never word you about smoking. I would have a cigarette. He used to have a cigarette. Doesn't that remind you of a shiela?

NOEL EDWARDS: Fatty and skinny won the race, you know how that goes and this old skinny can win the race and fatty can't.

GUS EDWARDS:  Stomach is a bit big. Never mind. He is only jealous I have got it and he ain't.

NOEL EDWARDS:  I love groans. I will eat greens raw and I am not sure whether young Angus eats his raw or not.

GUS EDWARDS: I am sharper than him. Of course I am.



NOEL EDWARDS:  The thing that he said about that Corgi, he says I'm the old queen that walks the Corgi. Isn't he nice? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you're both 81, Noel and Gus? 

GUS AND NOEL EDWARDS: I think we're the oldest here but he's, hang on, by an hour, so it makes you proud that you can see all these young kids here tonight. Makes you proud to be a twin. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And even though you're identical twins, you look quite different? 

GUS EDWARDS:  Of course I am, he's skinny. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   He's skinny and you're, you know? 

GUS EDWARDS:  Obese. Go on, say it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I wouldn't have used that word Gus? 

NOEL EDWARDS:  No, you said rounded was the word, wasn't it? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, how do you think you're aging compared to one another? 

GUS AND NOEL EDWARDS:  I look pretty, don't I? Well I was going to nominate him for the Mr Ugly competition but I got first prize. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Alright. But what about health with both of you, how are you aging compared to one another? 

NOEL EDWARDS:  Well, I think I keep myself pretty fit. I walk the dog but I don't jog, I'll still get rid of that cameraman one day. But no, I've always kept myself pretty fit. I coached rugby league until I was 67. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what about you Gus?

GUS EDWARDS: I was the lazy bigger. No, I was never very athletic but I'm pretty fit. I've just beaten prostate cancer and I'm due for a replacement hip and then I might be able to try and beat him at running but I doubt it.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Perminder, you're studying Gus and Noel and other older twins, what are you trying to find out about aging? 

PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES:  So our interest is in brain aging in particular but aging in general as well, and we do know that there are a number of diseases that do come on as we age and we're trying to determine what aspect of those diseases is genetically determined and how much of it is modifiable in terms of environmental factors.  So in fact if you take Gus and Noel we can see that they have the same genes but there are some lifestyle factors that are different between the two. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well they have different diets? 

PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV:  Weight, yes, diet, physical activity, and smoking, and we know that these are risk factors for vascular, vascular disease and heart disease in particular so we actually look at the brains as they age. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well we've got their brain scans here, can you sort of take us through these scans just explain to us. 

PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV:  Sure, what we have particular interest in is those white spots in the brain which we call white matter hyperintensities. Basically they are regions of the brain that have reduced blood supply, which suggest that some of the small vessels, the arteries are thickened and not providing enough oxygen or blood supplied to those regions. You can see that they are present in both brains, the top and the bottom, but the top one has much more of these than the bottom one. Both of them have this problem. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So the bottom one is Noel? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   And the top one is Gus? 

PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV:  Is Gus, yeah. So essentially what we're seeing is that these changes do occur in most of us by the time we reach our 70s and 80s and there are strong genetic factors which determine this. But on top of that there are environmental factors which modify the degree to which these changes develop in the brain and that's really the message that we want to give out is to test these lifestyle factors are important and they're important actually from an early age. So it's a cumulative effects over many decades, it's not something that starts on when you reach 60 or 70. So basically we need to be watching our diet, our weight, our smoking habits, et cetera, from an early age. So this is one of the messages I guess in terms of interaction of the genes with the environment that comes out of this study. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And again twins are the perfect experiment?


JENNY BROCKIE:   And this has implications for things like Alzheimer's? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Dementia? 

PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV:  That is true. We're also looking at dementia in terms of other kinds of dementia, for example Alzheimer's disease, and we know from twin studies that a significant proportion of Alzheimer's disease has a genetic component. We think it may be as much as 60 to 70 percent.  And then the point is to try to understand what genes may be involved because if we can identify those genes and we can possibly look at mechanisms by which these genes may translate into some abnormal proteins which may be implicated in the development of degeneration later on in life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What's the future of twin research around health now?  Jeff?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Studying from the cradle to the grave is really the whole spectrum of twin studies. To link up the factors associated with the environment in the womb, with the risk for later disease, even to link with Alzheimer's and other aging diseases.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you're interested in autism as well, yeah? 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:   Yes, I'm very interested in autism. Like other diseases, it's got a high genetic component but if we, what we want to do is look at the non-genetic components and again ask whether identical twins, where one has autism and one doesn't, or one has severe autism and one has less severe autism, what are the differences above genetics. We'll never get a cure for autism but if we can recognise early, there are certain early interventions that have been developed at the same time that we can hopefully kick into. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   If you could have your time over, would you choose to be twins or not? Phillip and Douglas? 

PHILLIP AND DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS:  Definitely, wouldn't change a thing.

ALEX AND DOUG DUNN: There’s absolutely no down side to having a twin as far as I've been able to tell over the last 24 years, it's only up sides so I can't imagine why anyone would say no. 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR JEFF CRAIG:  In fact I'd like to become a, I’d like to become one.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're just a frustrated twin, that's why you're doing the research. 

JACK PIERCE:  Talking about down sides, Pat's wearing my pants at the moment, perhaps my shirts as well. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Michael? 

MICHAEL CAMERON:  Yeah, I prefer to still be a twin, yes, 100 percent. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thank you so much everyone for joining us, it's been fascinating for two weeks to talk to all of you and really appreciate you sharing your stories with us. And that is all we have time for here but do keep talking about this on Twitter and Facebook. Lots of parents of twins I'm sure are interested too. Thanks everybody, thank you.