September 03, 2022 – Sometimes, in sleepless nights, as an ever and never stopping inquiring mind, you may stumble over just flabbergastingly mind-boggling stuff like this. The issue is “doppelgänger” and the possible genetic similarities behind it.
Doppelgänger means people that appear so similar to yourself that even facial recognition software would have a hard time telling you apart. Now scientists think they can explain what it is that makes them look so similar and possibly could explain why each of us may have doppelgänger(s). Doppelgängers are certainly and definitively not the result of some deep dark family secret. Simply, they look strikingly similar to you just with their brown hair, the structure of their nose, their cheekbones, and the shape of their lips, their hairdo, and many ma also have similar weights, similar lifestyle factors, and similar behavioral traits like smoking and education levels. That could mean that genetic variation is related to physical appearance and potentially may influence some habits and individual behavior.
Scientists have long wondered what it is that creates a person’s doppelgänger. Is it nature or nurture? A team of researchers in Spain tried to find out. Their results were just very recently published in the Journal Cell Reports . In fact, Dr. Manel Esteller, a researcher at the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, revealed that he worked on research involving twins in the past, but for this project, he was interested in people who look alike but have no actual family connection going back almost 100 years.
For this project, he actually turned to a very uncommon, but for the purpose of his research phantasmic resource. The resource is called “I’m not a look-alike!” which is an in itself very unique art project in photography by the Canadian artist François Brunelle.
Despite it’s slightly misleading title, the “I’m not a look-alike!” project is dedicated to do exactly this; to photograph “look-alikes” around the world, with an overwhelming wealth of hidden information behind each simple picture taken. In the approach of “Art leads to Science”, the research team in Barcelona asked selected pairs presented in the work of Francois Brunelle to do a DNA test. The pairs filled out questionnaires about their lives. The scientists also put their images through three different facial recognition programs. Of the people they recruited, 16 pairs had similar scores to identical twins identified using the same software. The other 16 pairs may have looked the same to the human eye, but the algorithm didn’t think so in one of the facial recognition programs.
Researchers then took a closer look at the participants’ DNA. The pairs the facial recognition software said were similar had many more genes in common than the other 16 pairs of individuals. The according to the face recognition programs “look alike” pairs of human individuals shared in fact several genetic variants. And these are very common among them, the researches noted. Thus, these individuals share those genetic variants that are related in a way that they have the shape of the nose, the eye, the mouth, the lips, and even the bone structure, i.e., their physical appearance.
Some confounding aspects
With the enormous number of people making up the world’s population, it might statistically seen just be possible that DNA-Structures (which are more or less stable within an individual) could randomly be identical between totally unrelated individuals, giving rise to the observed doppelgänger phenomenon. However, there may still be other factors that remain different. When the scientists looked closer at what they call the epigenomes of the doppelgängers that looked most alike, there were bigger differences. Epigenetics is the study of how the environment and behavior can cause changes in the way a person’s genes work. When the scientists looked at the microbiome of the pairs that looked most alike, those were different, too. The microbiome are the microorganisms, i.e., the viruses, bacteria, and fungi too small to see with the human eye that live in the human body. These are confounding factors that might decisively influence the apparent phenotypic appearance of an indivual person, either masking an genetically expected doppelgänger appearance or simply resulting in the same without genetic basis. In any case, here, we should also realise that the presented study does have limitations. The sample size was small, so it is difficult to say that these results would be true for a larger group of look-alikes. Researchers believe that their findings might change in a larger group. The study also focused on pairs that were largely of European origin, so it is unclear if the results would be the same for people who come from other parts of the planet.
There may exist some pitfalls in real live based on facial recognition systems and doppelgänger recognition however. You may go to the airport, and, yes, you may be identified as someone you are not at all. As a criminal, for example. Translating the study into the real world might have the potential for pitfalls of digital facial analysis tools leading to misidentify somebody for someone he is not, or perhaps, to wrongly diagnosed disease.
Ph.D.; Professor in Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Senior expert in theragenomic and personalized medicine and individualized drug safety.
Senior expert in pharmaco- and toxicogenetics.
Senior expert in human safety of drugs, chemicals, environmental pollutants, and dietary ingredients.
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