Your Doppelgänger is out there and you can share your DNA with them

Charlie Chasen and Michael Malone met in Atlanta in 1997, when Malone was a guest singer in Mr. Chasen’s band. They quickly became friends, but they didn’t notice what the people around them did: The two men could be twins.

Mr. Malone and Mr. Chasen are doppelgängers. They look strikingly similar, but they are not related. Their direct ancestors don’t even come from the same regions of the world; Mr. Chasen’s ancestors are from Lithuania and Scotland, while his parents Malone are from the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Two friends, along with hundreds of other unrelated looks, participated in a photography project by François Brunelle, a Canadian artist. Photo series “I am like no other!” Inspired by Mr. Brunelle’s discovery of his own appearance, British actor Rowan Atkinson.

The project has resonated on social media and other parts of the Internet, but it has also attracted the attention of scientists studying genetic relationships. Dr Manel Esteller, a researcher at the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona, ​​Spain, has previously studied the physical differences between identical twins and he wanted to see Consider the opposite: people who look alike but are not related. “What is the explanation for these people?” he wondered.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Reports, Dr. Esteller and his team recruited 32 pairs of looks from Mr. Brunelle’s photographs to perform DNA tests and complete questionnaires. about their lifestyle. The researchers used facial recognition software to quantify the similarity between the participants’ faces. 16 of those 32 pairs achieved the same overall score as identical twins analyzed using the same software. The researchers then compared the DNA of these 16 pairs of doppelgängers to see if their DNA matched their faces.

Dr. Esteller found that 16 pairs of “real” looks shared significantly more of their genes than 16 other pairs that the software deemed less similar. “These people really do look alike because they share important parts of the genome, or DNA sequence,” he said. He added that people who look more alike have more genes that “seem like common sense, but have never been shown”.

However, DNA alone doesn’t tell the whole story of our makeup. Our life experiences, and those of our ancestors, influence which of our genes are turned on or off – what scientists call our epigenetic genes. And our microbiome, our microscopic co-pilot made up of bacteria, fungi and viruses, is even more influenced by our environment. Dr. Esteller discovered that while the genomes of the doppelgängers were similar, their expressions and microorganisms were different. “Genetics brings them together, epigenetics and microbiome pull them apart,” he said.

This difference tells us that the pair’s similarity has more to do with their DNA than with the environment in which they grew up.

Because the emergence of doppelgängers is more due to common genes than shared life experiences, it means that, to some extent, their similarity is purely coincidental, motivated by Population Increasing. After all, there are only so many ways to build a face.

“There are so many people in the world now that the system is repeating itself,” Dr. Esteller said. It’s not unreasonable to assume that you too can look alike.

Dr. Esteller hopes that the study’s findings will help doctors diagnose diseases in the future – if people have enough genes in common to look alike, they can also share disease predictions.

Olivier Elemento, director of the British Institute of Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said: “It seems that something quite powerful genetically is causing two similar-looking individuals to also have similar profiles. across the entire genome. who did not participate in the study. The difference between the DNA’s prediction and the actual appearance of the person could alert doctors to problems, he said.

Dr. Esteller also suggests that there may be a link between facial features and behavioral patterns, and the study’s results could one day aid forensic science by providing glimpses into the future. History of crime suspects’ faces is known only from DNA samples. However, Daphne Martschenko, a postdoctoral researcher at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics who was not involved in the study, recommends caution when applying her findings to forensics.

“We’ve seen plenty of examples of how current facial algorithms have been used to reinforce existing racial biases in things like housing, job vacancies, and criminal records, ” Dr. Martschenko said, adding that the study “raises a lot of important ethical considerations. “

Despite the potential pitfalls of linking people’s looks to their DNA or behaviour, Mr Malone and Mr Chasen said the project looked alike and knew we could all have a twin The secret out there, is a means to bring people together. . The two remained friends for 25 years; When Mr. Chasen got married last week, Mr. Malone was the first person he called. While not everyone with the same DNA is linked, Mr Malone said he sees Mr Brunelle’s photography project as “another way to bring us all together as a human”. .

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