Sep 03, 2015 I Micah Hanks

The Mysterious Twin Towns: A Genetic Anomaly?

For quite some time, there had been something unusual about the small town of Candido Godoi, Brazil. Year after year, a strange sort of magic had seemed to transpire here, and throughout the surrounding region, the place became known for this oddity, after which the town garnered a special nickname: The Town of Twins.

The phenomenon itself seemed centered around a small settlement on the outskirts of town, known as Linha São Pedro, where a largely German and Polish population of immigrants had gathered for a number of years. The odd prevalence of twins born in this locale is a documented fact, with the rate of birth nearing 10% within the Linha São Pedro area. Speculation about this unusual phenomenon within the largely German settlement would eventually spawn an unusual, and perhaps unsettling rumor about the town: that the rate of twin births might actually be linked to inhumane experimentation carried out by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Rudolf Weiss had been an otherwise innocuous figure to those who knew him. An old German man in his fifties, was remembered as “a kindly and urbane doctor.” However, while serving in Germany under the Nazis, Weiss had been known by another name... and was perhaps the most infamous of Nazi war criminals: Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death”. It is believed Mengele likely may have been personally responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000, in addition to cruel and sickening experimentation carried out on prisoners held within Nazi concentration camps.

During his time performing genetic research and human experiments for the Nazis, it was known that Mengele had often experimented with twins. Hence, after it was learned that Mengele, while in Brazil, had spent time there in Linha São Pedro, many supposed it could have been secret experimentation continued by Mengele that had spiked the birth rate of twins in the area. Disturbing as the notion seemed, what else might have caused the anomaly?

Through strange fortune, perhaps, this was found not to be the case, and geneticists eventually found a far more mundane explanation for the bizarre mystery. 

Linha São Pedro twins 570x392
Multiple twins living in the town of Candido Godoi.

Beginning in 2009, Brazilian geneticist Ursula Matte carried out a series of DNA tests on 30 families in the community, and found that one particular gene appeared consistently among the mothers in Candido Godoi who had given birth to sets of twins. The final verdict: the gene pool among the largely German immigrants in the settlement had narrowed over time, and therefore the odd prevalence of twins in the area had been a result of inbreeding, rather than secret Nazi experimentation.

In fact, Candido Godoi is by no means the only “Twin Town” known to exist. The prevalence of twin births in this manner can often occur in isolated regions where inbreeding contributes to the furtherance of specific genes in these locations.

For instance, in the Bosnian town of Buzim, it is reported that at least 21 sets of twins had been birthed amidst a population of 20,000 between 1992 and 1995 alone. According to Nedzib Vucelj, a journalist who began to explore the phenomenon of Bosnia’s “Twin Town”, he says he has managed to track down 200 pairs of twins originally from the town with the help of a Facebook group he manages.

“There may be many more,” Vuceli told Reuters earlier this year, “given the rate of migration due to poverty and unemployment.”

Kodinhi Twins Village 570x283
Kodinhi Twins

Similarly, the village of Kodinhi, in Kerala, India, actually boasts an impressive 220 sets of twins born amidst just 2000 families, placing the twin birth rate at slightly better than 10%. Strangely, despite other areas where the phenomenon is known to have occurred, a recent article in the Daily Mail reported the apparent "marvel" this phenomenon had caused, as described by local researcher and twin "enthusiast" Dr Krishnan Sribiju: 

'Without access to detailed biochemical analysis equipment I cannot say for certain what the reason for the twinning is, but I feel that it is something to do with what the villagers eat and drink.

'If that is the case then maybe whatever is causing this exceptional level of twinning can be bottled and provide help for infertile couples.'  Categorising the twin phenomenon as a naturally occurring anomaly, Dr Sribiju has ruled out genetic factors as the cause due to the localised nature of the village.

Or, could it be that the mystery present in Kodinhi have a much simpler solution, as has been determined elsewhere? Interestingly, earlier speculation as to the cause of the twin town phenomenon in Candido Godoi had similarly involved something present in the town's drinking water, but this was ruled out, of course.

Maybe with time, it will be ruled out in Kerala, India just as well.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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