Nature or nurture? For years scientists have tried to determine which is the biggest cause for developing disease. In a new study, researchers are looking at twins to see what role their genes might play. This new research is happening right in our backyard.
It's not everyday that one of the world's top genetic researchers visits South Dakota.
"We first had to look up at the map where South Dakota might be! For Europeans it is not a state that is very well-known." Joked Dr. Dorret Boomsma.
Dr. Boomsma has been researching twins in the Netherlands for more than 25 years. For the past four, Dr. Boomsma's Vrije University in Amsterdam and the Avera Institute of Human Genetics have been working together on genetic medicine.
"I was very thrilled and very nervous I must admit, to be involved with such an important study it was a great honor as well for Avera to be involved with such outstanding researchers not only in the us across the world." Said Dr. Gareth Davies, the scientific director for the Avera Institute of Human Genetics.
The collaborative study is looking at the DNA of twins to determine how genetics factor into the development of personal characteristics and disease later on in life.
"When asking the question, why is my child tall? Or why does my child have ADHD and why does his sibling or twin does not have ADHD? Then genetics seems to be the most important explanation." Said Dr. Boomsma.
Dr. Boomsma's studies led to the creation of the Netherlands Twin Register. This bio-bank has collected DNA samples from more than 40,000 sets of twins. Where Dr. Davies' team comes in, is in genotyping and actually breaking down those sequences. But first the samples have to cross the Atlantic.
"The samples sometimes leave Amsterdam and 10 hours later they're in our lab here being extracted the DNA is being extracted from those samples." Said Dr. Davies.
Sequencing a genome used to take more than a decade, now it can be done in just two days.
Tapping in to disease at the most basic level is helping doctors get a better understanding and develop smarter medicines. But it all starts with collaboration.
"We need the twins, we need the samples, we need the DNA, and you need places like us to do the analysis and you need places like the Netherlands and M.D. Anderson where we do statistical analysis; so it's a big big collaboration." Said Dr. Davies.
And the mysteries of the double helix are only beginning to unravel. The study has shown that even with twins being identical, their DNA is not. Meaning on a genetic predisposition, one twin may develop a disease and the other will not.
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