Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Human earwax: Overlooked source of personal information?

Date:
February 12, 2014
Source:
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Summary:
Scientists have used analytical organic chemistry to identify the presence of odor-producing chemical compounds in human earwax. Further, the amounts of these compounds differ between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians. The findings suggest that human earwax could be an overlooked source of personal information.

Woman using a cotton swab in her ear. Scientists from the Monell Center have used analytical organic chemistry to identify the presence of odor-producing chemical compounds in human earwax. Further, they found that the amounts of these compounds differ between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians. The findings suggest that human earwax, an easily obtained bodily secretion, could be an overlooked source of personal information.
Credit: Piotr Marcinski / Fotolia

Scientists from the Monell Center have used analytical organic chemistry to identify the presence of odor-producing chemical compounds in human earwax. Further, they found that the amounts of these compounds differ between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians. The findings suggest that human earwax, an easily obtained bodily secretion, could be an overlooked source of personal information.

"Our previous research has shown that underarm odors can convey a great deal of information about an individual, including personal identity, gender, sexual orientation, and health status," said study lead author George Preti, PhD, an organic chemist at Monell. "We think it possible that earwax may contain similar information."

Earwax, scientifically known as cerumen, is a mixture of secretions from specialized sweat glands with fatty materials secreted from sebaceous glands. It can have one of two physical types: a wet yellow-brown wax or a dry white wax.

Preti's interest in earwax was piqued by the finding that a small change in a gene known as ABCC11 is related both to underarm odor production and also to whether a person has wet or dry earwax.

Individuals of East Asian (e.g., Chinese, Korean and Japanese) and Native American descent have a form of the ABCC11 gene that codes both for dry-type earwax and also for reduced underarm body odor relative to individuals of other ethnicities, who typically produce a wet-type ear wax and greater body odor.

To explore whether earwax has a characteristic odor, the researchers collected earwax from 16 healthy men: eight Caucasian and eight of East Asian descent. Each sample was placed into a vial, which was gently heated for 30 minutes to promote release of airborne molecules known as volatile organic compounds ( VOCs), many of which are odorous.

An absorbent device was then inserted through the vial's cap to collect VOCs from the closed containers, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques used to analyze the chemical compounds.

The analysis revealed 12 VOCs were consistently present in the earwax of all the men. However, the amount of VOCs varied as a function of the subject's ethnic background, with Caucasians having greater amounts of 11 of the 12 VOCs than East Asians.

"In essence, we could obtain information about a person's ethnicity simply by looking in his ears. While the types of odorants were similar, the amounts were very different," said study lead author Katharine Prokop-Prigge, a Monell chemist.

The researchers suspect that the fatty nature of earwax makes it a likely repository for lipid-soluble odorants produced by certain diseases and the environment.

Prokop-Prigge points out that at least two odor-producing metabolic diseases (maple syrup urine disease and alkaptonuria) can be identified in earwax before they can be diagnosed using traditional techniques such as blood and urine analysis.

"Odors in earwax may be able to tell us what a person has eaten and where they have been," said Preti. "Earwax is a neglected body secretion whose potential as an information source has yet to be explored."

Future studies will examine these possibilities.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Monell Chemical Senses Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Katharine A. Prokop-Prigge, Erica Thaler, Charles J. Wysocki, George Preti. Identification of volatile organic compounds in human cerumen. Journal of Chromatography B, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2014.01.043

Cite This Page:

Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Human earwax: Overlooked source of personal information?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140212112121.htm>.
Monell Chemical Senses Center. (2014, February 12). Human earwax: Overlooked source of personal information?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140212112121.htm
Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Human earwax: Overlooked source of personal information?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140212112121.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Too Few Teens Receiving HPV Vaccination, CDC Says

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is blaming doctors for the low number of children being vaccinated for HPV. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Newsy (July 24, 2014) Sheik Umar Khan has treated many of the people infected in the Ebola outbreak, and now he's become one of them. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins