Tuesday, 18th September 2018
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How might it be true that "wax in your lugholes hides your filthy secrets," as "New Scientist" magazine recently wrote?

A. Besides waxy compounds that protect the ear canal and kill off bacteria, as well as bodily cast-offs, cerumen (aka earwax) contains a unique chemical signature that could be used to extract plain old DNA, says the magazine's Christie Wilcox. Engy Shokry and her Brazilian colleagues have used earwax "to detect drug and tobacco use and diagnose both types of diabetes."

Earwax offers several advantages: Collection is more straightforward and less invasive than blood or urine samples and requires little processing to be analyzed. Also, because earwax builds up over time, tests on earwax can detect drugs up to three months after they're taken, so they can be used for both short- and long-term monitoring.

Yet currently, using earwax as a diagnostic tool remains problematic since it lacks the centuries of data that exist for blood and urine samples. Says Sweden's Craig Wheelock, "Normalizing it so that earwax is earwax is earwax will be a challenge."

Concludes Wilcox, "For now, any confidential information will stay archived in your ear where nobody can get at it."

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