August 24, 2012 4:17 pm
Like something out of an episode of “Law and Order,” a woman in New York recently claimed her twin sister was the perpetrator of a recent theft of $206 worth of paraphernalia. They look identical. But certainly we can figure out who really did it. Right? Wrong. Well, at least much of the time.
Identical twins can actually get away with crimes by blaming one another. In 2009, a judge in Malaysia couldn’t figure out which identical twin owned a stash of narcotics. They were both acquitted. In Arizona last year, either Orlando or Brandon Nembhard murdered someone outside a nightclub. The police still don’t know which one did it.
Even identical twins do have certain things that distinguish them. Scars or tattoos can often help the police tell them apart. They have different fingerprints, too, so when a clean set is found on the scene that’s a plus. But without a murder weapon or other places to check for prints, that lifesaver won’t work. And since identical twins come from the same egg, they have identical genes.
Slate reports that science might just be catching up to these two-faced criminals, however. Turns out, the DNA of identical twins isn’t 100 percent identical after all.
A new kind of genetic evidence may come to play a role in these cases. Epigenetics refers to chemical modifications to DNA that may change how genes are expressed. A study released earlier this year showed that the epigenetic profiles of identical twins differ at birth, presumably because of small differences in the twins’ uterine environments. While no prosecutor has yet used epigenetic evidence to distinguish a guilty twin from his innocent sibling, the findings should put would-be criminal twins on notice.
So if you’ve got an identical twin and want to commit a crime, you’d better do it fast before science catches up with you.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Meet Michael Pahn: The Fiddle and The Violin are Identical Twins (that Separated at Birth)
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