Monozygotic versus Dizygotic Twins

Because monozygotic (MZ) twins develop from a single fertilized egg, they begin life with exactly the same set of genes. In this respect, they are clones— organisms whose genes are identical. As discussed below, however, they may accumulate genetic and other differences during development.

In contrast, dizygotic (DZ) twins are no more genetically close than any pair of siblings. While it is commonly said that siblings share half their genes, this is incorrect for two reasons. First, the random nature of meio-sis and fertilization means that two siblings could end up with many, or few, genes from a particular parent in common. Second, there are many human genes for which there is only one common form, or allele. Therefore, any two people will share many alleles, regardless of their relationship. Only those genes with more than one allele form the basis of human genetic variation. These are the real focus of the question about genesharing in siblings. Of these variable genes, siblings (including dizygotic twins) on average share half.

Because dizygotic twins are the same age, they may share more of their environment than would two siblings of different ages. For instance, because they are likely to be engaged in similar activities, dizygotic twins are more likely to have similar environmental exposures (including behaviors, diet, hobbies, exposure to infectious agents, and exposure to chemicals)—whether at home, at school, or in the community—than two siblings of different ages and different activity patterns. It is this similarity of environment but difference of genes that makes them a useful contrast to monozygotic twins, whose environments and genes are largely identical.

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