Photo by Marciej Boryna

The human twin birth rate in the United States rose 76% from 1980 through 2009, from 18.8 to 33.3 per 1,000 births. The Yoruba peoples have the highest rate of twinning in the world, at 45–50 twin sets (or 90–100 twins) per 1,000 live births, possibly because of high consumption of a specific type of yam containing a natural phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to release an egg from each side. In Central Africa, there are 18–30 twin sets (or 36–60 twins) per 1,000 live births. In Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, the lowest rates are found; only 6 to 9 twin sets per 1,000 live births. North America and Europe have intermediate rates of 9 to 16 twin sets per 1,000 live births.The degree of separation of the twins in utero depends on if and when they split into two zygotes. Dizygotic twins were always two zygotes. Monozygotic twins split into two zygotes at some time very early in the pregnancy. The timing of this separation determines the chronicity (the number of placentae) and amniocity (the number of sacs) of the pregnancy. Dichorionic twins either never divided (i.e.: were dizygotic) or they divided within the first 4 days. Monoamnionic twins divide after the first week. In very rare cases, twins become conjoined twins. Non-conjoined monozygotic twins form up to day 14 of embryonic development, but when twinning occurs after 14 days, the twins will likely be conjoined. Furthermore, there can be various degrees of shared environment of twins in the womb, potentially leading to pregnancy complications. Twin studies are utilized in an attempt to determine how much of a particular trait is attributable to either genetics or environmental influence. These studies compare monozygotic and dizygotic twins for medical, genetic, or psychological characteristics to try to isolate genetic influence from epigenetic and environmental influence. Twins that have been separated early in life and raised in separate households are especially sought-after for these studies, which have been used widely in the exploration of human nature. Classical twin studies are now being supplemented with molecular genetic studies, which identify individual genes.

Story by Annika Sharber.