Your Earwax Says a Lot About You

Samples reveal ethnicity, possibly much more

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 14, 2014 4:04 AM CST | Updated Feb 16, 2014 7:25 AM CST

(Newser) – Researchers have dug deep into the ears of volunteers to study a revolting but potentially promising new way to get clues about a person's identity and habits. The team of organic chemists says earwax is a "neglected body secretion" that can reveal a person's ethnicity and possibly much more information, Fox News reports. When they heated earwax samples from volunteers to release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the researchers found that the earwax of Caucasians, which tends to be wet, could easily be told apart from the wax of those of East Asian descent, which is usually dry, with the former containing heavier amounts of 11 of the dozen VOCs they tested for.

The researchers became interested in earwax after learning that the same gene linked to whether earwax is wet or dry is associated with underarm odor, which they say "can convey a great deal of information about an individual, including personal identity, gender, sexual orientation, and health stature," reports Medical News Today. "We think it possible that earwax may contain similar information." Last year, biologists were able to determine a blue whale's testosterone and stress levels by taking samples from its 10-inch deep layer of earwax, Popular Science notes; more on that 10-inch "earplug" here.

The researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia presumably got through quite a few of these.
The researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia presumably got through quite a few of these.   (Shutterstock)
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