Published on January 23, 2018

from left: Margie Anthony, Catherine Anthony and Eileen Keefer

Nature vs. Nurture: Wombmates May Hold the Answers

As wombmates, Margie, Catherine and Eileen have a lot in common.

The triplets shared a car and phone in high school, friends and a love of sports. They even co-own a business in Sioux Falls called Kosama.

But where does genetics end and upbringing take over?

Avera is trying to answer this age-old question of nature vs. nurture through the Avera Twin Register. The register tracks and studies the DNA and traits of twins and multiples. Since the register launched, more than 700 people have joined, which includes family members.

Over time these insights can lead to important behavioral and medical discoveries. The hope is to use the information for more accurate diagnosis, better treatments and prevention and cure of diseases.

Margie Anthony (oldest), Catherine Anthony (middle), and Eileen Keefer (youngest) recently signed up for the Avera Twin Register. They are the third set of triplets and the only adult set enrolled in the Avera Twin Register to date.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Margie said. “I want to give as much information as possible because I think it’s so interesting what they’re doing.”

The three went to the Avera Institute for Human Genetics to fill out a questionnaire and give a cheek swab of DNA. They will have to fill out the questionnaire every year. It asks about their family history, personality traits and health and wellness factors.

Because of their similar upbringing and DNA, twins and triples are in a unique position to help researchers.

“Twins are kind of the gold standard of looking at how our environment and genetics affect us,” said Julie Kittelsrud, PhD, CNP, with the Avera Institute for Human Genetics. “Identical twins are almost 100 percent identical in DNA.”

The DNA of fraternal twins and multiples is more like sibling DNA. Their shared fetal and family unit environment can still provide insight, however.

The Anthony triplets, for example are all health conscious in part because of their parents.

“We were raised together, how we make decisions is really similar,” Catherine said. “We were always all into sports and our parents always encouraged us to take care of ourselves. Owning Kosama is a prime example of that.”

Avera is partnering with the Netherlands Twin Register at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The Avera Twin Register will be a long-term research project, and sub-studies are possible. For instance, Kittelsrud said there is an opportunity to compare the two groups and how our daily activities vary.

Learn more about the study.

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