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Northwestern-UIUC researchers launch Illinois’ first-ever twins registry

image of young male twins
Database to assist scientists studying twins and other multiples.

Northwestern University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have partnered to launch the Illinois Twins Project (ITP), the first-ever such database in the state, which will be a scientific resource for researchers interested in how genes and environment influence twins and multiples. 

“Studying twins and other multiples allows researchers to look at differences between identical twins who share all DNA and family environment and fraternal twins who share family environment and approximately 50 percent of their DNA,” said Northwestern’s Jennifer Tackett, co-principal investigator of the ITP, along with Daniel Briley of UIUC.  

The database, which will include twins and other multiples in Illinois between newborn and 17 years of age, will be an ongoing archive, with no limit to the number of twins and multiples enrolled. Researchers are particularly interested in working with the parents of 5-year-olds since they are at an important age where they’re just beginning to transition to school.

“Twin studies can offer insights into the complex influences of genetics, shared family environment and non-shared environment on things like personality traits, relationship patterns, academic outcomes and other psychological constructs,” said Tackett, also director of clinical psychology at Northwestern.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Northwestern and UIUC are affiliated with the project. Prior work by the researchers on other twin projects, namely, the Texas Twin Project, has included investigations of genetic and environmental contributions to the impact of peer relationships, the early development of personality and the emergence of risk-taking behaviors, among other things. 

“The implications of the project are as varied as the questions that might be asked,” Tackett said. “This will be a highly useful scientific resource for researchers interested in questions related to the complex interplay of factors leading to many consequential human outcomes.” 

The database is intended to be a statewide registry completed by parents of twins and other multiples who may be interested in having their children participate in future research by the ITP team. 

A wide variety of studies may be proposed from ITP faculty research partners. Families can participate in as many or as few studies as they would like, as long as they meet eligibility criteria for a given study. Agreeing to be in the registry is not an agreement to participate in any particular study; consent will occur on a case-by-case basis as new studies are proposed. 

Currently, the project is funded by Northwestern and UIUC.

For a complete list of the NU-UIUC team, visit the ITP website.