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A few facts of life about genomes and twins

ERNEST HOOPER
Published June 25, 2004

No, it's not that elf-looking thing in the flower garden. It's not a city in Alaska or the Orlando Magic's first pick in the NBA draft, even though I think Genome would be a cool first name.

Don't know what a genome is? Don't feel bad. A recent survey indicated that three out of four Americans don't know, and until Thursday I was one of the three. Yet after touring the latest exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, I now know that a human genome is a person's entire set of genes.

Those who visit MOSI on Fowler Avenue between Saturday and Sept. 12 will learn about genomes and genetics. You know all the hullabaloo about the bio-tech industry? It's tied to discoveries in genomes that have occurred in the past 50 years, and one of the exhibits gives detailed accounts of the advances.

The breakthroughs now reap huge benefits: preventing and curing diseases, helping people live longer, producing better foods and drugs, and - CSI fans - solving crimes. Several displays give stirring personal accounts of families better equipped to deal with disease because of the research.

I know it's a little uncommon for me, the non-science guy, to enthuse about the mysteries of genes. But the exhibit has that effect. You learn what the double-helix is all about and why siblings can turn out to be so different even though they have the same parents.

One of the interactive displays explains that humans share 98.4 percent of their DNA with monkeys, 90 percent with mice, 50 percent with bananas, 40 percent with worms and 30 percent with yeast.

In fact, the shared DNA among humans is 99.9 percent. The same. It's that 0.1 percent that makes us all different.

Count me among the fascinated.

* * *

IDENTICAL TWINS SHARE 100 percent of the same DNA, so MOSI is giving twins and their parents a sneak preview of the genome exhibit today, before it opens to the public Saturday. The preview event is a partnership of MOSI, exhibit sponsor Pfizer Inc. and the Tampa Parents of Twins and Supertwins.

Who knew there was a support group for the parents of multiples?

President Patti Rendon, the mother of 2-year-old twins Emily and Abby, said the challenges the parents face are unique, starting with the fact that 90 percent of multiples are born before the 36th week.

"Once the baby is born, the mother is getting up in the middle of the night to feed two screaming children at same time," Rendon said. "Everyone tells you breastfeeding is best, but you're only one person. There's a dilemma of what's best for children. It's a whole different ballgame."

It's no ballgame for dads accustomed to seeing most fathers return to the golf course two weeks after their kids are born. Rendon said fathers of multiples are on board and involved from day one.

And don't forget the financial challenges. Rendon figures she and her husband went through 600 diapers in the twins' first month, and they spent an estimated $250 a month on formula. Yikes.

The challenges continue through childhood, with parents needing to know whether twins should be in the same class or different classes. For some multiples, separation can be traumatic, even for a short time.

Rendon said the group offers education, communication, friendship, shoulders to cry on and whatever else parents may need. Parents and kids gather for outings and play groups. Rendon said she has noticed that her twins seem more comfortable when playing with other twins than when playing with singlets.

The group meets the third Friday of every month at the University Community Hospital cafeteria conference room. For information, call Rendon at 813 655-6572 or visit the Internet site, www.tampatwinsclub.org That's all I'm saying.

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

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