Gut bacteria play a role in long-term weight gain

The Department of Twin Research has just published exciting results in the International Journal of Obesity based on the study of over 1600 twins that provides even more proof about the link between our weight and the bacteria that live inside us (microbes). The researchers analysed the different types of bacteria in faecal samples donated by TwinsUK volunteers and dietary information and compared this information against weight change over nine years. They discovered that women who ate high amounts of dietary fibre (found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains) were less likely to gain weight than those who ate little fibre, even if they consumed roughly the same amount of calories. Women who lost weight or had stable weight also had more diverse microbes in their guts. The researchers were able to pinpoint some of the microbes that are different between women who had gained weight and those who had lost weight. Most of these microbes had already been discovered in mice to be involved in better energy metabolism. “The data we published show that the exciting studies in mice about how microbes affect weight gain are also relevant to weight gain in humans.” says Dr Ana Valdes.

“Our study highlights a significant role of microbial diversity on weight gain independently of other factors”  says  Dr Cristina Menni, first author of the study “they also suggests that addressing  microbiome diversity through dietary interventions may be the way forward to  improve weight maintenance in the long run. These data are important because they will allow our team, and other scientists as well, to investigate how to influence a person’s gut microbes – using probiotics and fibre – so they are at a lower risk of developing obesity.”

To read an article in The Conversation about this research, please click here.

Genetics plays a significant role in immunity

Nearly three quarters of immune traits are influenced by genes, new research from the Department of Twin Research, King’s College London reveals.

The study, using the data of 497 twins was published in Nature Communications and has contributed to a growing body of evidence that the genetic influence on our immune system is significantly higher than previously thought. Click here for the full King’s College London article.

KCL Big Data Day

The Department of Twin Research was pleased to have been invited to showcase our work at KCL’s ‘Big Data Day’, bringing together King’s researchers who are involved in a wide range of data-focused research, including its societal, political and ethical aspects.  DTR students, post-docs and senior lecturers all came together to promote our research and create new collaborations at our DTR information stall and poster. To see our poster please click here.


dsc_0433Our involvement in KCL big data day enabled us to reflect on nearly quarter of a century of collecting varied and extensive data on over 13,000 research bddvolunteers in order to understand how genetic variations relate to health, disease and ageing. This data collection has led to multiple collaborations with over 800 groups worldwide, resulting in over 600 research papers. Our research includes the collection of thousands of different types of genetic, biochemical and questionnaire-based data as well as data from microbiome studies that have revolutionised our knowledge of how closely our health is related to the bacteria that live in our gut. Such an extensive dataset has resulted in the TwinsUK cohort being the most investigated twin cohort in the world. The scope of its data provides a unique opportunity to investigate the relationship between our health, genes, environment and microbiome in a way, and to an extent that is unprecedented.


Congratulations must also go to three members of our team, Marianna Sanna, Stefano Andreozzi and Mark Simcoe who won this year’s “Big Data, Big Ideas” Challenge which took place on Big Data Day. The Challenge was an innovative interactive session designed to bring researchers together for rapid brainstorming to jumpstart exciting interdisciplinary projects. As part of the challenge, Marianna, Stefano and Mark, together with three other researchers in an entirely different field (social sciences and telecommunications) conceived an instrument for the analysis of migrations in developing countries.  As a case study, they examined the migration of people from Northern to Southern Nigeria which they undertake due to seasonal weather and difficulties in accessing water and food for their cattle. They then showed that data can be integrated from mobile phone usage, social networks, NGOs, and the genetic profile of the cattle’s dung to build a model of the migration and to help improve the process. They are very happy to have won a bespoke workshop about ‘Engaging for Impact’ hosted by the Science Gallery London.

The Challenge showed how small ideas shared amongst KCL researchers from across the disciplines can have a big impact on health and society.







Acne sufferers’ cells may be protected against ageing

Scientists at King’s College London have found that people who have previously suffered from acne are likely to have longer telomeres (the protective repeated nucleotides found at the end of chromosomes) in their white blood cells, meaning their cells could be better protected against ageing.   The study, published 28th September 2016 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology measured the length of white blood cell telomeres in 1,205 twins from the TwinsUK cohort.  Click here for the full King’s College London article.

Study finds link between faecal bacteria and body fat

Researchers at the Department of Twin Research, King’s College London have found a new link between the diversity of bacteria in human poo – known as the human faecal microbiome – and levels of abdominal body fat.  The research, published 26 September 2016 in Genome Biology, also provides further evidence of possible genetic influences on obesity, through heritable bacteria found in the faecal microbiome.

Click here for the full King’s College London article

Do our genes tell us how to vote?

We recently performed a poll of voting preferences among our twins aiming  to explore how much nature and nurture influence our party political allegiances and potential voting preferences.  We had an excellent response rate and the results of the study have been published by the Sunday Times and The Conversation UK,  an independent source of news and views sourced from the academic and research community. It seems that our genes do have a say when it comes to political party allegiances.

CLICK HERE to read more….

DTR on show at the Evening Standard 1000 Party


The Department of Twin Research (DTR), King’s College London were delighted to have been asked to take part in the 2014 Evening Standard Power 1000 party on October 16th, with five sets of identical twins engaged in interactive fun science with influential party-goers.

Daniel and Raphael with Stephen Hawkings
Daniel and Raphael with Stephen Hawking

The party was sponsored by the Wellcome Trust (also a sponsor of DTR research projects), the Gates Foundation and the Francis Crick Institute. The party launched the Evening Standard’s annual list of ‘most influential Londoners’ who make London one of the world’s creative and cultural centres, drawn from all sectors and walks of London life – from finance, science, technology, media and politics. The party was held in the grounds of the Francis Crick Institute near St Pancras Station which will be a powerhouse of medical research and Europe’s biggest biomedical facility.


Jo and Diane
Jo and Diane

To honour the opening of this landmark biomedical facility, the 2014 power 1000 party focused on London’s contribution to science, medicine and global humanitarism. Renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time was star guest at the event and confirmed that “Scientific research is a global co-operation but London is a leading centre.” Other influential Londoners included Chancellor George Osborne (who was voted most influential Londoner of 2014), Mayor Boris Johnson and Nobel Prize-winning scientists Sir Paul Nurse (director of the Crick Institute) who won the Nobel prize for his role in discovering the proteins that control cell division and Professor John O’Keefe who won the Nobel prize for the discovery of cells in the brain that act as our “internal GPS”. In addition, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates addressed the audience by video.

Hugo and Ross man the ice station
Hugo and Ross man the ice station

The DTR under the directorship of Professor Tim Spector was invited by the Francis Crick Institute to take part in the evening in order to help showcase important and successful Wellcome-funded genetic and ageing projects and to help demonstrate the power of twin research and how these projects have helped scientific and medical advancement, especially in the emerging field of epigenetics. The DTR had previously worked with the Francis Crick Institute at a number of public engagement events, inspiring the public about the importance of biomedical research, and were delighted to have been offered the chance to take part in the “1000 party”.

As party-goers walked into the event, they were met by Professor Spector’s dulcet tones as snippets of epigenetics ‘conversation’ drafted through the speakers whilst acrobatic performers formed identical and then different movements in “Switch”- a new aerial commission inspired by epigenetics, supported by the Wellcome Trust and created by Metta Theatre.

Margaret and Rosemary on the harp
Margaret and Rosemary on the harp

The party-goers were also treated to the beautiful sound of two Paraguayan harps, as Rosemary and Margaret played in perfect harmony and symmetry, being identical mirror twins.

Throughout the evening identical twins, who are members of TwinsUK and have taken part in health-related research, interacted with party-goers through the use of clever and engaging science activities inspired by real-time research, resulting in interesting conversations about the value and progress of biomedical and genetic research. For example, party-goers were asked to flex their muscles, gripping on to our grip-strength machine whilst competing against each other. They were very surprised, and a little disconcerted to learn that grip strength is 50% heritable! Likewise their efforts on a Pilates wobble cushion to demonstrate the role balance plays in ageing were very impressive – especially after a drink or two. Unfortunately alcohol did not dull the cold of our ice-pain test, which demonstrated that pain is definitely NOT all in the mind and has a strong genetic basis. Similar tests conducted at the DTR have revealed new pathways associated with pain. Party goers were also surprised by frank conversations with identical twin volunteers about longevity where they discovered that, all things being equal, an identical twin who smokes may live ten years less than the twin who doesn’t smoke.

Katie and Wendy test people's balance
Katie and Wendy test people’s balance
Daniel and Raphael try out the grip strength test











The DTR is very grateful to the twin volunteers – Margaret, Rose, Hugo, Ross, Daniel, Raphael, Jo, Diane, Wendy, and Katie – who did a fabulous job entertaining and talking to the guests; to Simon Watt , a freelance Science communicator who helped develop some of the science activities, and to Sarah Punshon who oversaw our involvement in the evening on behalf of the Wellcome Trust, and who also helped us create and perfect our science activities. Finally we are enormously grateful to the Wellcome Trust and the Francis Crick Institute for giving us the opportunity to showcase our research at such a fun and inspiring evening.

Tim standing next to the epigenetic Switch performance
Tim standing next to the epigenetic “Switch” performance

by Dr Juliette Harris, Department of Twin Research

Welcome back Hugo and Ross

TwinsUK welcomes back Hugo and Ross after their Greenland expedition.
Their trek was inspired by the work done by Spinal Research and the polar expeditions of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Ross used the equipment and provisions available during Shackleton’s expedition and Hugo used everything a modern day explorer would use.

In order to assess how exposure to extreme environments affected their bodies and overall health the twins attended a research visit on 06 June 2014. The team interviewed the twins and collected samples. A summary of the interview is available HERE.

DTR “Twin Experience” Event at the Science Museum

The Department of Twin Research presented their work at the Science Museum’s Late Bio-Revolution-themed event on Wednesday 26th February. These events take place every month and attract huge crowds drawn by the opportunity to engage in different science programmes in a fun and enlightening way. Please carry on reading if you want to find out more about the event.

A record-breaking 6,900 members of the public people came to the event on the 26th February to meet scientists from the Crick’s partner organizations, including King’s College London. Not only did we present our twin research at this event, but members of the public also had the chance to photograph developing zebra fish on a smartphone, create a DNA cocktail and knot a blood vessel.


The DTR was delighted to have been chosen to present at the Science Museum ‘Late’ event as there was a lot of competition for this prestigious opportunity.  We wanted to find the best way to explain how valuable twins are to medical and scientific research.  Through clinical and behavioural information that we collect during clinical visits and questionnaires,  we have been able to discover the genetic and environmental influences on a wide range of common traits such as osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma as well as traits such as personality, pain and sexual dysfunction.


Communicating on a different level?

At the ‘Late’ event, we wanted the public to experience in just a few minutes what it is like to be a twin taking part in our research and how just a few simple tests can give us a wealth of information. We presented four different tests which teach us about four different physical / mental functions. These tests are designed to investigate how and why we perceive pain (using a cold pain test – a hand is placed in ice for as long as the volunteer can bear it), as well as measuring frailty (through a grip strength test) and cognition (through a puzzle competition) which are predictors of ageing. We also explored different levels of communication.

The grip strength test measures frailty

Hundreds of people took part in the tests, and talked to our scientists about our work and its impact on scientific knowledge.  The public especially enjoyed taking part in the cold pain challenge – perhaps fuelled by their extra tolerance due to their alcohol intake – queuing for up to half a hour to take part. A large number of twins who came to the event joined our registry after realising the benefits to contributing to research. For us it was also a wonderful and rare opportunity to engage and inspire members of the public about the importance of our research. We really appreciated the support of the Crick and Science Museum team who provided us with a wonderful space and help in the run up to the event and on the day itself.

In addition to giving the public the chance to take part in the tests, we also presented a photographic exhibition of members of TwinsUK taken at the 2013 twin party by Iringo Demeter. The photos capture beautifully the joys of twinship and the special bond between twins. Prof Spector also had the rare opportunity to interview Ann Jeremiah and Judy Tabbott, members of TwinsUK, who took part in the Minnesota Study of the personalities and life choices of identical twins ‘Reared Apart’.

A special thank you to the twins who came and helped on the night, chatting with the public about the importance of research and their twinship and encouraging them to take part in the tests, to Dan and Scott Shilum of VisualMedia for videoing and photographing the event, and to the staff at the Department of Twin Research for making the research so much fun.

Photographic exhibition of members of TwinsUK
Puzzles help test cognition levels
Puzzles help test cognition levels









Prof Spector catching up with Judy and Ann
Prof Spector catching up with Judy and Ann
The cold pain test
The cold pain test

By Juliette Harris & Victoria Vazquez (TwinsUK)

Polar Trek – Identical Twins

In May 2014, identical twins, Hugo and Ross Turner went trekking across the Greenland polar ice cap to raise money for Spinal Research. This trek was inspired by the work done by Spinal Research and the polar expeditions of Sir Ernest Shackleton.  Ross used the equipment and provisions available during Shackleton’s expedition and Hugo used everything a modern day explorer would use.

As a spin off from our daily work, we are also working with Hugo and Ross. They have visited us for a total of 3 clinical visits in the run up to and completion of their expedition. We have seen them prior to their training began, in the middle of the training and prior to the start of their expedition and they also visited us after their expedition finished.

As Hugo and Ross are identical twins and share 100% of their DNA, any differences we see between their results at the end will be due to the different environmental exposures that have had during their expedition.

Whether we will see that Ross has suffered more by using the equipment and provisions from Shackleton’s era in 1914 than Hugo will from using modern day equipment and provisions remains to be seen, but either way, we are very excited to be able to take part in this unique and ultimate study of genes versus environment.

Before they left on their expedition, they joined the Department Of Geography at King’s College London for an interview to talk about the expedition. CLICK HERE for more information and to see the interview.


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