Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Twin Saints (No, Certainly Not Us)

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian are Catholic saints that are twins. Their good deeds are reputed to include providing medical care and healing without accepting pay, hence their nickname "the silverless." They are often depicted in paintings to be transplanting the leg of a recently dead Ethiopian man onto another man, to replace his ulcered and diseased leg. Um, yeah. Here is an example...

"Legendary transplantation of a leg by Saints Cosmas and Damian, assisted by angels."
Photographed by Andreas Praefcke (2006), I can't seem to find the name of the artist, and I got this image here.

Fun! According to Wikipedia, the twins are the saints of "surgeons, physicians, dentists, protectors of children, barbers, pharmacists, veternarians, orphanges, day-care centers, confectioners, children in house, against hernia, against the plague." just lists pharmacists/druggists.

There are many churches dedicated to Cosmas and Damian, but the one I want to bring to your attention is the one in Twinsburg, OH. Yeah, THAT Twinsburg. Love it.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Population Genetics, And How Identicals Make It A Little More Interesting

There was this evolutionary biologist by the name of William Donald Hamilton, aka Bill, and he was a pretty big deal. He was a member of the Royal Society, and he studied altruism and kin selection, among other things. His work is especially interesting when you look at genetically identical individuals. You will have to forgive me; I am a science nerd.

Some species, like bees and ants, have one reproductively active female (the queen) and many sterile females (workers). These workers take care of offspring and generally... do work, as the name suggests, leaving the queen plenty of free time to make more babies. It had long bothered biologists that this seems contrary to natural selection, survival of the fittest. Being unable to reproduce makes you pretty unfit, in natural selection's mind. (Remember, we're talking about insects, not people, don't shoot!). Darwin himself pondered this problem. Hamilton found a formula describing how being unable to reproduce might be beneficial for the overall fitness of the individual's kin.

Hamilton's rule: rB > C, where r = relatedness factor, B = benefits to the reproductive recipient of such altruism, and C = costs to the individual in terms of fitness (fecundity).

This is where we come back to the subject of twins. "r" is how related you are to someone else. You are 0.5 related to a parent and a full sibling. You share half your genes. You are 0.25 related to a half-sibling, because that half is halved again. You are 1.0 related to yourself. Oh yeah, AND your clone, if you are the product of an in utero cloning event.

Using Hamilton's rule, if I didn't reproduce and I instead helped Baby A to reach her full fitness (helping her raise children, giving her the opportunity to have more children, etc.), I would still be pretty darn successful. As successful, in fact, as if I had gone and had my own children. My genes are her genes, and therefore I am pretty fit if she reproduces and I don't. There is practically no cost associated with me refraining from having offspring to help my sister, from an evolutionary standpoint. My genes are still passed on to the next generation.

Of course, humans cannot be entirely compared to the order Hymanoptera. But this was an interesting thing to think about during biology today.

Oh! AND my professor actually mentioned identical twins/clones today for once. Well, didn't actually mention, but it was on one of the slides. Score!


PS: Yes, all those links are to Wikipedia. I love me some wiki.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Baby A, one of our roommates, and I are looking to live together for the next school year. We need to find another roomie to share a room with our roommate, or we need to move to an apartment with a big master for Baby A and me and a smaller bedroom for our roomie. (We break rent down by square footage, and since Baby and I share, we can afford a bigger room than a singleton alone). Moving might be nice (walk-in closet, anyone?), but we love our apartment complex and our neighbors.

Said neighbors know an identical twin looking for a room to share! (Her twin goes to a different school). That's the hard part, getting people who want to share. Since she's shared her whole life (and it's cheaper, I presume), sharing is preferred! Obviously, Baby A and I are golden on the whole sharing thing, and our roomie shared a room with her older sister. We're all about sharing around here :].

Since we haven't met this girl yet and we haven't solidified our own plans yet, I am really not sure how this will all turn out. But, in any case, I was very excited to hear another example of the sharing skills of multiples. We all had at least one partner in the womb, right? It must have rubbed off on us. Now this part is more about twins who choose to live together/share a room when they don't have to. Some people assume multiples need lots of space after, *gasp* the horrors of having to share with the same people our entire lives. (Anyone hear of marriage? Anyone? Pretty much sounds like "you and me forever, deal with it." Welcome to twinhood). People tend to give us advice, or substitute the beginning of "assume" for the beginning of "advice," about how we need "spread our wings" or some other psychobabble they are totally unqualified to give. Some multiples do live apart and enjoy it. Some live apart not by choice. Others are sticking together until something changes. (Hi! That last one is us!) Most of the people who like to give us their opinion are singletons who have maybe seen a TV special on multiples. Or something. Next time we get psychobabbled, I am going to ask them if they are married, and then tell them sorry they have to share their life with someone too.

All parents get tons of unsolicited advice, and I am sure parents of multiples (or preemies, hi
Heather!) get a bit more than usual. And it's the same for the kids too. I know that Baby A and I have had our fair share of people trying to tell us how to live our life. It's refreshing meeting (or hearing about, like at the snowboard shop the other day, identical males who share a room who are close to our age) about twins just like us. We are not freaks.



Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Eternal Question, Or, Two Of Them Actually

When something bad happens to people, "Why me?" is a common thing to ask. When something good happens to people, "Why me?" is also asked. I am sure that there are very few people who can (truthfully) claim never to have asked themselves this question.

And so it is with Baby A and I. "Why us?" Why our zygote? Why are we lucky enough that our split was even and clean? Why? Parents of multiples ask similar questions, as Pam mentioned in a comment on my last post. One baby turned into three sweet boys. Oh, the chances!

We have jokingly said "We were too much person for one person!" But really, chance favored us, and we are not sure why.

Another eternal question: what happens after we die? Oh, don't worry, I won't wax philosophical on you here. Here I introduce to you the idea of an ibeji. The Yoruba in western Africa have the highest rate of dizygotic twinning in the world. Their word for "twin" is "ibeji."

The meaning of "ibeji" I want to talk about is the wooden statues they carve to house the souls of twins who have died. They are formally known as "ere ibeji," where "ere" means "sacred image," "ibi" means "born," and "eji" means "two."

The Yoruba believe that twins share a soul, and thus if one passes away in infancy, that part of the soul must remain on earth so the other twin can live. The statue houses that part of the soul. Even if both twins die, ere ibeji are made and kept. The statues are cared for as if they were living, and are kept in a special place in the family's home.

Interestingly enough, apparently twins are descended from the colobus monkey, whose flesh is forbidden to the Yoruba. During festivals where mothers dance with their ere ibeji, they sing songs honoring twins, many of which emphasize this connection. Sometimes, twins are even referred to as "children of the monkey." Our parents used to call us "monkeys" because we were climbers as toddlers (we climbed EVERYTHING). Coincidence? Maybe not.

Here's where I got all this information:
Yoruba Customs and Beliefs Pertaining to Twins
Wikipedia article: Yoruba People
Wikipedia article: Ibeji
Ere Ibejis: Yoruba Twin Figures from the Bryn Mawr College Collection