Earwax Can Say A Lot About You
February 13, 2014

Earwax Substance Can Help Determine A Person’s Ethnic Origin

[ Watch the Video: What Can Earwax Say About You? ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The odor-producing chemical compounds found in a person’s earwax could help determine that individual’s ethnic origins, scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia report in a recent edition of the Journal of Chromatography B.

Lead author and Monell organic chemist Dr. George Preti and his colleagues identified the presence of this compound. They also found that the amount of those substances found in human earwax varied between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians.

“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,” Dr. Preti said in a statement Wednesday. “We think it possible that earwax may contain similar information.”

Also known by its scientific name cerumen, earwax is a mixture of secretions from specialized sweat glands with fatty substances secreted from the sebaceous glands, the researchers explained. It typically comes in one of two physical forms: wet with a yellowish-brown hue, or dry and white in color.

According to Dr. Preti, a small change in the ABCC11 gene is linked to both underarm odor production and to whether a person has dry or wet earwax. People of Chinese, Japanese or other East Asian descent, as well as those of Native American heritage, possess a form of the gene which codes both for dry earwax and a reduced amount of underarm body odor in relation to people of other ethnic groups, he noted.

[ Watch the Video: Monell Minutes: What does earwax have to do with body odor ]

In order to test whether or not cerumen types possessed a distinctive odor, Dr. Preti and his colleagues collected earwax from eight healthy Caucasian males, as well as eight men of East Asian descent. Each substance was placed in a vial and heated for 30 minutes, which promoted the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Since many VOCs cause odors, the investigators inserted an absorbent device into the vial’s cap to collect the molecules from the containers, and then analyzed the chemical compounds using chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques. They discovered 12 VOCs that were present in the earwax of all the men, but that Caucasians possessed 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,” explained lead author Katharine Prokop-Prigge, a chemist and postdoctoral fellow at Monell.

“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,” the Center added. Furthermore, the authors noted that the odor-producing metabolic diseases maple syrup urine disease and alkaptonuria can be identified in earwax before they can be diagnosed using blood tests, urinalysis and other traditional methods.