Avera Twin Register
The first and only twin register in South Dakota.
Nature vs. nurture. It’s the age-old debate about whether genetics or environment has more influence over a person’s characteristics. The power of twin research is unmatched in deciphering the genetic and environment influences of health and disease.
Twins provide a unique resource to show researchers how environment — lifestyle, diet, relationship, etc. — and genetics — DNA — impact the development of certain traits and diseases.
Since 2009, Avera Institute for Human Genetics has partnered with the world’s leading twin register, the Netherlands Twin Register at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. With the launch of the Avera Twin Register in 2016, we collect and analyze DNA from twins throughout the Midwest and the Netherlands to provide insight about traits and diseases specific to each region.
The Power of Twins
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.
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
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% of their DNA
- Fraternal twins share 50% of their DNA (like siblings)
- Both identical and fraternal twins share a similar environment
For example, a study combined the power of twin data from several twin registries. Results showed that ADHD is 60-80% genetic and 20-40% environment.*
Browse the information below to learn more about the power of twins.
Why study twins?
At the Avera Institute for Human Genetics, we can dig even deeper into the genetics to see what specific differences exist and where those genes are located. This information could potentially provide the insight needed to develop specifically targeted medications.
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?
- Let us know by either calling 605-322-3050 or filling out the form on this page. 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.
- 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.
- 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.