Avera Twin Register
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Avera Twin Register

The first and only twin register in South Dakota.

The power of twin research is unparalleled when it comes to learning how much of a certain trait or disease is related to genetics and how much of it is related to environment – the age-old nature-versus-nurture debate.

By collecting and analyzing the DNA of twins, we hope to gain understanding of how genes influence human traits and diseases, which may allow for more accurate diagnosis, the development of better treatments and possibly the prevention of diseases.

The Avera Twin Register (ATR) is a division of the Avera Institute for Human Genetics (AIHG), which has a history of excellence in innovative genetics research. Since 2009, the AIHG has partnered with the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR) to collect and analyze the DNA of over 80,000 individuals from the Netherlands.

With addition of the ATR, we can now collect and analyze DNA from twins throughout the Midwest, allowing us to gain insight about traits and diseases that are specific to our region.

Browse the information below to learn more about the power of twins.

Why study twins?

Twins have a unique opportunity to show researchers how environment (lifestyle, diet, relationships, etc.) and genetics (DNA) impact the development of certain traits and diseases.

Both identical and fraternal twins are essential to twin studies. Their shared environment –in the womb and while growing up – combined with shared DNA is the perfect set-up for understanding the influence of genetics and environment.

  • Identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA
  • Fraternal twins share 50 percent of their DNA (similar to siblings)
  • Both identical and fraternal twins share a similar environment

Twin studies compare identical twins to fraternal twins to see how similar they are in displaying a certain trait or disease. This information can suggest what percentage of a trait or disease is influenced by genetics and what percentage is influenced by environment.

For example, a recent study combined the power of twin data from several twin registries. Results showed that ADHD is 60-80 percent genetic and 20-40 percent environment.*

At the Avera Institute for Human Genetics (AIHG), we can dig even deeper to see what the specific genetic differences are and where the genes are located. This information could potentially provide the insight needed to develop specifically targeted medications.

Uniquely Identical

Identical twins are genetic carbon copies. Their DNA sequence is exactly the same, yet physically, emotionally and behaviorally, they may become increasingly different over time. Why is that?

Epigenetics plays a key role in understanding this question.

Epigenetics, a field of study within genetics, examines how external or environmental factors can switch genes on and off, causing variations in how genes are expressed and making even identical twins different.

Within twin studies, epigenetics provides further insight on how environment can influence the development of certain traits and diseases.

Why should I (or a loved one) join?

  • It’s open to all sets of twins in which at least one twin lives in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa or Nebraska.
    • No matter your age, gender or ethnicity – we invite you to join our twin register! Higher order multiples such as triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets are eligible to participate, as well.
    • Immediate family members of twins, such as parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, are also invited to join the ATR.
  • It’s easy and free.
    • All we need is a swab of your cheek, answers to a basic questionnaire and your permission.
  • It’s invaluable.
    • You’ll provide information for scientific research, which may allow for more accurate diagnosis, the development of better treatments and possibly the prevention of diseases.
  • It’s private.
    • To protect your privacy and maintain confidentiality, all DNA samples will be marked with a number and barcodes. Researchers analyzing the DNA won’t know who they are testing, or what the tests are related to. For a complete description of participants’ privacy rights, view our Rights as a Research Participant.
  • You’ll receive free zygosity testing!
    • DNA testing is the only way to know with 100 percent certainty whether same-sex twins are identical or fraternal. When you participate in the ATR, you’ll receive your zygosity results for free.
  • You’ll be a part of a team of world leading experts in twin research!

How do I (or a loved one) get involved?

  1. Let us know by either calling 605-322-3050 or filling out this form. We'll be in contact with you to set up an appointment. Note: completing the contact form does not mean you are enrolled into the Register.
  2. At your scheduled appointment, you'll review the consent form and be enrolled into the Register. Consenting to be in the Register may also be done over the phone.
  3. Once you've been consented to be in the Register, you'll be asked to provide a sample (with a simple and painless swab of your cheek) and fill out a health assessment. It may be possible to collect the sample and questionnaire through the mail.

As a registered participant, you’ll also have a study coordinator who will be your point of contact throughout the process. They’re available to answer any questions you have regarding the study. You can also share updates about your life with them to supplement our research.

Note: As more people enroll, ATR researchers may identify specific areas for further research. You may be invited to complete additional questionnaires and contribute to the new research initiatives.

Research and Publications

We seek to make a positive impact in the lives and health of the people and communities we serve through research.

To learn more, visit our news section and read our recently published articles, including those written in collaboration with our partners and the world’s leading experts in twin registers, the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR).

Meet the Team

When you become a participant in the Avera Twin Register, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a passionate team of scientific experts at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics lab in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Interested in career opportunities with our research team? Visit our Careers.

Meet the Avera and Vrije Universiteit (VU) Scientific Committee

Contact us for more information:

  • Avera Institute for Human Genetics
    3720 W. 69th St., Suite 200
    Sioux Falls, SD 57108

*Faraone SV, Perlis RH, Doyle AE, Smoller JW, Goralnick JJ, Holmgren MA et al. Molecular genetics of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry 2005; 57: 1313–1323

Adult Twin Girls with Soccer Gear

“Twins are invaluable in understanding how much of a specific trait or disease is related to genetics and where in the genetic landscape are those differences that are driving those traits and diseases.”

Erik Ehli, PhD
Research Scientist, Avera Institute for Human Genetics

Live Better. Live Balanced. Avera.

Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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