Can Identical Twins Be Male and Female?

If you give birth to boy and girl twins you’ll be told that they are fraternal and stem from two different eggs. But in extremely rare cases they can in fact stem from one egg, like identical twins do.

By Kate Phillipa Clark

Can identical twins be male and female?

Twins of different genders are universally accepted as a sound basis for a clinical determination that boy and girl twins are not identical. However, in extremely rare cases, boy and girl twins can stem from the same fertilized egg, like identical twins do.  Twins, who stem from the same fertilized egg, are called monozygotic twins. Washington State Twin Registry stresses that it’s an extremely rare event as only a handful of cases have been reported in the medical literature. Inaccurate copying of the sex chromosomes in male twins, that began as monozygotic twins, have resulted into a few cases of male/female twin pairs. These twins are genetically identical, except for their sex chromosomes. Here are two examples from Washington State Twin Registry on how it could happen.

  • There could be a glitch in copying sex chromosomes, resulting in a male zygote (fertilized egg) that starts out with an extra X chromosome (XXY). This is opposed to the usual XX for a girl or XY for a boy.  Through a complicated series of events, this zygote could result in the birth of monozygotic twins who are male (XY) and female (XX).
  • After a male (XY) zygote is formed, it starts to develop and splits into two embryos (identical male twins). Early in this process, inaccurate copying of the sex chromosomes could result in the loss of the Y chromosome in some cells. The embryo that is formed from the cells missing the Y chromosome would develop into a female (XO). The other embryo would still develop into a male (XY). The twin with only one X chromosome would be female, but her cells would have only one copy of the X chromosome. This condition is called Turner Syndrome. Turner Syndrome is a chromosomal condition that affects development in females.

 

What are identical twins?

A woman ovulates and releases one egg. The egg is fertilized by a sperm cell (now called zygote). The zygote splits into two within a few days after fertilization. The two zygotes are developing rapidly into two embryos that have the same chromosomes and genes. However, although they share the same genetic characteristics, identical twins are not necessarily exactly alike. Environmental differences in the womb – and when the twins are growing up – can affect the way they look and behave. Read more about the environmental differences.
Identical twins can share a placenta or have one each. They can be either di-di twins (dichorionic diamniotic), mo-di twins (monochorionic diamniotic) or mo-mo twins (monochorionic monoamniotic). Mo-mo twins are extremely rare. Read more about how identical twins are formed.

What are fraternal twins?

A women ovulates and releases two eggs. The eggs are fertilized by two different sperm cells. Fraternal twins are no more closely related in terms of DNA than regular siblings (if they are conceived by the same mother and father). Fraternal twins will share about 50 percent of their DNA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Kate Phillipa Clark

Kate Phillipa Clark has a bachelor in Journalism and an Executive Master in Corporate Communication. She is an identical twin and so is her father.

7 Comments

  1. Agnes madu / 17. September 2018 at 11:18 am /Reply

    Living in Jos plateau state nigeria.lost my identical boy and girl twin babies to twin twin transfusion syndrome,two weeks ago. it’s so painful.

    • Kate Phillipa Clark / 17. September 2018 at 12:14 pm /Reply

      Agnes, our deepest condolences for your loss. Are you aware of the Center for Loss in Multiple Birth (CLIMB)? They have a lot of information regarding loss on their website including interviews with mothers: http://www.climb-support.org

  2. Dennis Outlaw / 2. June 2018 at 10:56 pm /Reply

    But with 22 other xx pairs that are identical, doesn’t this make them much more genetically the same than normal fraternal twins?

    • Kate Phillipa Clark / 5. June 2018 at 9:18 pm /Reply

      Hi Dennis,
      Thank you for your question. We need to discuss your question with an expert in twin research / genetics – then we’ll answer you and update the article accordingly. If you want to be notified about updates to this article (and articles on about-twins.com in general), you’re more than welcome to sign up for our newsletter. We’ll be in touch!

    • Kate Phillipa Clark / 27. June 2018 at 8:46 am /Reply

      Hi Dennis,
      We just heard back from the Washington State Twin Registry and have updated the article. You’re right in your assumption that they are much more genetically the same – they are genetically identical, except for their sex chromosomes.

  3. Djea3 / 5. December 2017 at 1:25 am /Reply

    Therefore it is NOT possible. The MOMENT that the XXY splits to XX XY it is OBVIOUS that the two X’s are not necessarily genetically identical and that the XY is only ONE off those X set of chromosomes, the Y is totally different. The fact that the Y is genetically different assures that they are NOT identical.
    It does however mean that there was a “correction” genetically to assure that the life being formed did not die off and it is a non-standard condition.
    Remember that BOTH X factors came from the mother…..there are no two ways around that. You could say that they came from a very strange and unusual genetic anomaly but they are definitely NOT identical at all. IF the extra X and Y came from the father it would be totally different than if the extra X came from the mother. IT would also mean that TWO sperm or a genetically variant sperm won the race If the XX came from the mother is would likewise mean that the egg is abborent.

    • Kate Phillipa Clark / 5. December 2017 at 7:58 am /Reply

      Hi,

      Thank you for your comment.
      We do need to update/correct this article. As you point out the XXY split to XX & XY would not result in two identical individuals – but rather two genetically different individuals that (could) stem from 1 egg/1 sperm cell, as with identical twins. Thanks for drawing our attention to this!

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