Similarities and Differences between Monozygotic Twins

The fertilized egg cell that gives rise to MZ twins begins life with a single set of genes, and so we might predict that every cell that arises from it would be exactly identical. However, small differences between daughter cells may accumulate throughout embryonic development and later in life. The earliest difference may be in the mitochondria each inherits. Mitochondria are the cell's power plants and contain a small amount of DNA. Some of the hundreds of mitochondria in a cell may contain mutations. If the cells that create the two twins carry different mitochondrial genes, even identical twins will be genetically different. Mutations can also accumulate during embryonic development, or after birth, either in the mitochondrial genes or the genes in the nucleus. Such mutations may have a significant effect: Some types of cancer are due to mutations accumulated during one's lifetime, often through exposure to environmental chemicals or radiation.

For the vast majority of genes, though, MZ twins are exactly identical. Nonetheless, twins do experience slightly different environments, even when reared together, and any early differences between them may be accentuated by families members, or by one another, leading to development of very different personalities.

mitochondria energy-producing cell organelle

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