Twin Sisters -- One Black, One White?


Oct. 26, 2006 — -- Kian and Remee Horder are healthy, rambunctious twin sisters, born in Britain last year.

But to meet them is to get a surprise. Kian is what almost all of us would label as black, with chocolate-colored skin and curly black hair. Remee is blond and fair-skinned.

Twins of different races? Can that be? They have the same parents and the same family tree. They developed together in their mother's womb and were born within minutes of each other.

Their parents tell us they had no fertility treatments. No child was switched at birth in the hospital. It was just a case of nature offering a surprise.

They may look like they're from a different family, but that's not how their father views his daughters."I just can't understand why they're different, when, to me, they're not," said Remi Horder, their father. "They're just the same birth, mixed, biracial."

Their mother, Kylee Hodgson, joined in saying, "I definitely didn't notice the color difference at first."

But other people did -- and the sisters quickly became darlings of the British news media.

Another set of black-and-white twins surfaced just this week in Queensland, Australia; their pictures have commanded high prices in the world's tabloids.

But ask geneticists, and they'll say they're not that impressed. Twins who appear to be of different races are rare, but they're far from impossible.

And perhaps more important, some scientists said, they show how flimsy the concept of race has become in the modern world.

"It's not that unusual because of the way genes are transmitted from parent to child," said Lee Silver, a Princeton University geneticist.

The Human Genome Project, which deciphered the details of the DNA molecules that make us who we are, found that of the 25,000-35,000 genes that every human being has, only about 10 play a major role in determining skin color.

Odds are that if parents have two children, they will mostly pass the same genes on to each -- mostly, but not entirely. Occasionally, the genes will be different enough that siblings look substantially different.

"You might have a very dark-skin-colored child from parents, and the very next child will be very light-colored," Silver said.

But in a surprising way, he said, it really doesn't matter very much. The Human Genome Project found that except for gender, people are surprisingly uniform genetically. Even if one person has red hair and another has black, even if one is African-American and another is Asian -- they are, on the genetic level, 99.9 percent the same.

And they are becoming more so. In the modern world, people and races are mixing more than ever. The parents of Kian and Remee were both of mixed parentage themselves.

"It's not truly a pure black parent with a pure white parent," said Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center. "You had both parents who are already mixed racially, so that when they go back together, you can get both extremes."

"In modern society especially, racial classification makes no sense," said Silver. "We are becoming more cosmopolitan in modern society. People marry each other without respect to race. And many, many people actually have a mixed ancestry and don't even know it."

Horder watched his daughters and said, "It's just a blessing for me."

And as for their differences and the chance that one will face discrimination that the other does not he responded: "It's like a poke in the eye to racism at the end of the day."

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