We found that, although twins are epigenetically indistinguishable during the early years of life, older monozygous twins exhibited remarkable differences in their overall content and genomic distribution of 5-methylcytosine DNA and histone acetylation, affecting their gene-expression portrait. These findings indicate how an appreciation of epigenetics is missing from our understanding of how different phenotypes can be originated from the same genotype.
— Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, July 2005

PEORIA — Leave all that to the scientists, the doctors.

When Peoria brothers Ray and Rick Loy stand facing each other, which isn’t really all that often, they see and sense that they are looking at their own mirror image. And, their similarities and asymetrical differences are not all in their physical appearances.

For instance:

They look alike. Ray is right handed. Rick, known affectionately and more commonly as “Moose,” is left handed. Ray roots for the Chicago Bears football team. Moose is a Green Bay Packers fan. In professional baseball, they agree on the Cubs.

At 62, they remain standout athletes. Whether their three decades each of employment for Anheuser-Busch determined their beverage and brand of choice, or the other way around, is impossible to determine (what came first, the brewery or the brew?).

Ray is known to be fastidiously clean and tidy. Moose…?

“Not so much,” Ray quipped.

“Hey, what are you talking about,” Moose responded. “I’m clean.”

It’s an example of the easy, and amusing, banter common to a conversation including the two, and a common feature among those who share the chromosomes that are supposed to make humans different.

The Loy boys, as they are known, are identical twins, that unique subset of humankind that account for one in 125 live births, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Stories are common about twins developing and sharing a made-up language in childhood. About telepathic communication. About near supernatural occurrences based on their close proximity in  the womb.

“So, do I think that some twin feels a twinge in her knee in a kitchen in Minnesota and calls her twin in Illinois and hears she just broke her kneecap? Well, maybe that happens,” said Heather Quiroz, 31, of Aledo, whose twin sister, Andrea Mercier, lives in Chillicothe. “I just know nothing like that ever happened to us.”

Andrea and Heather grew up in Aledo. Their mother dressed them alike as children, but they grew into their own styles by middle school.

"We were very close," Andrea said. "We still are. We were never very far apart."

Athletic, they played on the same high school golf and softball teams. They both once shot identical 82s in a state golf tournament. In softball, Andrea pitched; Heather caught.

"In all of high school I don't think she shook off a pitch I called for more than once," Heather said.

"She always knew the pitch I was thinking about throwing," Andrea said.

They both attended Millikin University in Decatur, but a life in the ministry was calling Andrea. She transferred to Trinity Christian College in Missouri and now has a masters of divinity degree. She currently works as the director of family ministry at Chillicothe Christian Church.

Heather graduated with a degree in exercise science with a minor in psychology. She worked as a personal trainer and she stepped on the same path her sister took. She, too, has a masters degree and is the director of family ministry at a church back in her hometown.

"It was a challenge being apart for the first time in college. It was sad. A lot of tears," Heather said. "We were used to always being together and never having to worry about finding friends. We had each other."

The Loy twins feel similarly blessed about being twins.

"Actually it is a privilege being a twin," Moose Loy said.

"It's really cool," Ray Loy said.

They have a second bond that transcends their twin identities. They were adopted as babies.

"At the time, they usually separated twins for adoption," Ray Loy said. "We were extremely fortunate they kept us together."

They were inseparable through high school in Canton, where they excelled at several sports. They attended Spoon River Community College together, lived together in Pekin after college then moved to Houston when the job market dried up in central Illinois.

They split up for the first time when Loy moved back to Illinois for a job in Decatur. They were apart for 14 years.

"I decided I didn't want to only see Ray three or four times a year," Moose Loy said.

Now the Loy boys live across the street from each other in Peoria. They work in management at Brewer's Distributing. They are dedicated advocates for all things Budweiser.

"It's another bond we share," Moose Loy said, sipping a Busch Light at his brother's kitchen table.

An old-fashioned “asking around” search for area adult twins for sources for this story on the unique relationships of twins, turned up almost nobody. A Facebook callout delivered a couple of dozen in 24 hours. Nearly all showed some glimpse into the relationship between adult siblings who also happen to share a birthdate and year, and look alike. Often, a sense of humor was on display.

The mother of Haley and Briana Alexander, who grew up in the Peoria/Glasford, recommended her 19-year-old daughters as subjects for the story.

“They are both almost 20 years old and identical twins. They are both almost done with dental assistant classes. So they have literally done the same thing always. They still argue as sisters do, but have always shared a vehicle, working and going to school.”

Kari and Kristen McMillan sent a Snapchat photo of the two of them looking dreamily skyward with visions of pepperoni pizza slices dancing in their imaginations.

“We are 34-year-old identical twins,” Kari McMillan wrote. “I am the cooler one.”

Katie and Bridget Brill already landed local fame as basketball twins at Peoria Notre Dame High School.

“We are blue-eyed blondes who grew up to be well-known basketball players in Peoria,” wrote Katie Bell. “We’d love to be in the paper again!”

Anna Stinauer of Canton and her twin, Marissa Yontz, of Milwaukee, were only recently sure they were identical twins.

“We actually found out we were identical twins last May,” Stinauer wrote in an email. “My parents never knew for sure as the doctors could not conclusively say. So, we took a twin zygosity test and found we have all of the 25 markers that make us identical twins. We obviously look very similar, but fraternal twins sometimes do as well, so we wanted to be sure.”

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.