Do you have a doppelgänger? Research suggests you do, and you likely share DNA with them too

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Latest research suggests that doppelgängers may share more than just physical appearances.
Latest research suggests that doppelgängers may share more than just physical appearances.
  • A Canadian photographer has travelled the world for more than a decade to take pictures of doppelgängers.
  • His work spurred the interest of a researcher in Spain who wanted to study the genetics of lookalikes.
  • The fascinating new research suggests that doppelgängers share not only facial features but DNA and behavioural traits too.

If you’re like me, you may have a fascination with the complex concept of doppelgängers, a person who is not related to you but is so similar in appearance that they could easily pass as your double. If anything, it makes you realise that you’re not quite as unique as you thought.

The topic is something Canadian photographer François Brunelle has long been passionate about. For years, Brunelle had travelled the world taking photos of people who looked strikingly similar.

His picture series, “I’m not a look-alike!” gained popularity online and was inspired by his discovery of his own lookalike, Rowan Atkinson. According to Brunelle, “many [celebrities] already have” participated in his photography project, but the project is open to all lookalikes, as long as the two persons are unrelated.

It’s clear that people are as enthralled as he is by the phenomenon - his Instagram and Facebook pages have a combined following of more than 75 000 followers. 

It’s not just the general public whose interest he’s managed to capture: after learning about his work, Dr Manel Esteller, a scientist who has previously studied the physical differences between identical twins, wanted to find out more about the opposite of this: people who look alike but are unrelated. 

And that’s what he did.

Have you found your doppelgänger that made you do a double-take? Do you look like a famous person? Share your pictures story with us here.

Studying 16 pairs of lookalikes

Together with his team, Estellar, a researcher at the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, recruited 32 pairs of unrelated doppelgängers from Brunelle’s photo series. 

They used facial recognition software to score the similarities between the pairs’ faces: 16 of the 32 pairs received similar overall scores to identical twins and were considered doppelgängers.

READ MORE | Scarlett Johansson lookalike gets 10.2 million followers on TikTok

All the participants underwent DNA tests so that the researchers could analyse their genomic structure. They also completed questionnaires about their lifestyles. 

The power of genetics

The results were jaw-dropping: the unrelated pairs with strong facial similarity also shared 19 277 common genetic variations in 3 730 genes. Additionally, they shared similar behavioural traits and lifestyle factors, such as smoking habits, weight and education levels.

These results suggest that while genetics influence physical appearance, they may also surprisingly influence habits and behaviour.

“We provided a unique insight into the molecular characteristics that potentially influence the construction of the human face,” Esteller said in a news release. This research, therefore, suggests that these same determinants are linked to both physical and behavioural attributes that constitute human beings.

Interestingly, despite these lookalikes’ genomes being similar, their epigenomes and microbiomes were different. As the New York Times explains, it isn’t solely DNA behind our makeup - there’s also our epigenomes. Epigenetics is the study of how the environment and behaviour can cause changes in the way our genes work, CNN explains, so our lived experiences influence which of our genes are switched on or off.

And our microbiome, the genetic material of all the microbes (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that live on and inside the human body, is further influenced by our environment.

“Genetics put them together, and epigenetics and microbiome pull them apart,” Estellar told the Times. 

WATCH | Black Coffee shocked when he spots lookalike in crowd!

Since the study’s results suggest that doppelgängers’ appearances are linked more strongly to shared genes than shared life experiences, it somewhat means that such similarities are bound to happen, considering our planet has nearly 8 billion people on it.

“Now there are so many people in the world that the system is repeating itself,” Esteller told the Times. So it would make sense that you, too, have a lookalike waiting to be found - if you haven’t found them already.

Estellar is hopeful that their research will have future implications in forensic medicine - reconstructing the criminal's face from DNA - and in genetic diagnosis, where the photo of the patient's face will offer clues as to which genome he or she has.

While that will hopefully transpire in future, Brunelle’s work is already bringing people together. Michael Malone, along with his doppelgänger Charlie Chasen (pictured in the Instagram post below), participated in Brunelle’s project and told the Times that it was “another way to connect all of us in the human race.” 

The team’s results were published in the journal Cell Reports in August.

Finding your doppelgänger: real-life stories

We reached out to people who told us they either had close encounters with their lookalikes or people told them they were convinced they saw their doppelgänger. 

I'm sure I saw mine (lookalike) years ago in a clothing store, either at Canal Walk or Tygervalley. Exactly the same hair, same length and our faces looked TOO much alike! The following happened very synchronised: We both turned around to look at each other, stared at each other for a few seconds (speechless - but her eyes and mine communicated we both knew what was going on here), turned back and walked away. I still wish to this day I wasn't so awestruck and had the guts to go talk to her. - Alicia Albertyn
I’ve been told by many people that I have a ‘common face’. People have come up to me telling me I look exactly like someone else. There was a time when I was on campus and someone came up to me and hugged me, thinking I was that other person who I’m not related to at all. It’s not only the face (that has a resemblance) - it’s the build, size and everything else. The woman I was compared to is a doctor as well and apparently has similar taste in clothing and introvert-extrovert traits. It’s very interesting. - Nabeelah Kootbodien
When I was in high school, a guy in my class went on a family trip to Cape Town. Apparently, he saw me at the beach and kept shouting (to get my attention). Obviously, back at school, he gave me grief for ignoring him and being extremely rude over the weekend. He explained that he saw me on the beach at Melkbosstrand, but I explicitly told him it wasn't me. Long story short, he didn't believe me and said he knew it was me. So, I apparently have a doppelgänger in Cape Town that I have yet to meet. - Manuela Esmeraldo

Finding your virtual twin has also been made possible through the internet and social media. On Facebook alone, there are multiple groups of people excitedly searching for their doppelgänger. One group has 10 000 members eagerly trying to find their lookalike, with numerous photos resembling several celebrities.

READ MORE | Dwayne Johnson reaching out to his lookalike is the wholesome content you need to see today

In 2015, the Huffington Post published a story about 18 people who looked freakishly alike to strangers they bumped into and documented on Reddit. 

So, chances are that somewhere out there, there’s a person who has a lot more in common with you than merely just your physical appearance. If you haven’t run into them yet, the internet may be a good place to start your search.

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