Us twin moms often have a laugh at people who ask if boy/girl twins are identical. Just to make it clear… if your kids are packing different junk, they are not identical. Another way to be sure is if your unborn babies are sharing a placenta. So what happens if you spot boy/girl twins sharing the same placenta at your ultrasound? What are semi-identical twins?
Every now and again a bizarre but awesome twin story hits the news. Twins that turn out to have different fathers; Twins who appear to be of a completely different race. The science of twins is fascinating, and the case of the semi-identical twins is no exception.
The Puzzle of Semi-Identical Twins
In 2014, an Australian first-time mom went for a routine appointment at 6wks of pregnancy. During her ultrasound, twins were discovered sharing a single placenta. The fact they shared a placenta would ordinarily confirm them as identical twins. But at a later anatomy scan, Mom was found to be carrying one boy and one girl… not so identical after all.
A mid-trimester amniocentesis was performed on each amniotic sac to investigate. A comparison of the Twins’ DNA showed chimerism in both twins. This means they were carrying an unusual combination of DNA. Normally this would occur when one twin absorbs the other in utero, but here we had two babies
The DNA test showed both twins carried the same DNA on the Mother’s side. But when it came to the Father, the DNA they shared wasn’t quite the same. It is a possibility simultaneous fertilization occurred, two sperm arrived at exactly the same time. Usually, this kind of
There were of course concerns. Would the babies be born with genital ambiguity, gonadal dysgenesis or Turner Syndrome? The pregnancy continued as normal, until at 33wks fetal growth discordance (one twin growing quicker than the other) led to an early but healthy birth by C-Section. Hooray for healthy semi-identical twins!
How Are the Semi-Identical Twins Now?
Although the report on this case was published in February of 2019, the semi-identical twins are now 4yrs old and generally healthy. The girl twin did have some complications… she suffered a blood clot which led to the amputation of her arm at 4wks old, and at 3yrs was confirmed with gonadal dysgenesis which led to the surgical removal of her ovaries to reduce the risk of cancer.
Still, both twins are reported to be developmentally normal and doing well!
How Rare is Sesquizygotic Twinning?
Sesquizygotic twins are extremely rare, but just how rare is yet to be determined. One in 1,000 births are identical twins but there have only ever been two recorded sets of semi-identical twins. The first case was reported in 2006; one boy twin and one hermaphrodite twin. Similarly to the second case, both shared the same DNA from their mother but a mix of DNA from their father.
“We know this is an exceptional case of intermediate twins, also known asProfessor Fisk, former President of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society.
a thirdtype of twinning,”
The question I have is… how many undiagnosed cases are there? This type of DNA cocktail would normally not lead to a viable pregnancy, but that does not mean there are not many more cases of
I recently carried out a ‘23 & Me’ Ancestry and Health
Sources / Further Reading
- BBC News. (2019, Feb 27). Semi-Identical Twins ‘Identified for Only the Second Time’.
- Cara, E. Gizmodo. (2019, Feb 28). Australian Siblings Are Semi-Identical Twins, Some Of The Rarest Humans Ever.
- Caroll, L. UNSW Sydney. (2019, Feb 28). Semi-Identical Twins Identified in Pregnancy for the First Time.
Gabettet al. The New England Journal of Medicine. (2019, Feb 28). Molecular Support for HeterogonesisResulting in Sesquizygotic Twinning.
- Hamilton, K. IFLScience! (2019, Feb 27). Semi-Identical Twins Identified For Only The Second Time Ever.
- Souter et al. (2007, Apr).A case of true hermaphroditism reveals an unusual mechanism of twinning