Academic journal article Science and Children

Molecules on Cell Phones Provide Lifestyle Sketches

Academic journal article Science and Children

Molecules on Cell Phones Provide Lifestyle Sketches

Article excerpt

We leave behind trace chemicals, molecules, and microbes on every object we touch. By sampling the molecules on cell phones, researchers were recently able to construct lifestyle sketches for each phone's owner, including diet, preferred hygiene products, health status, and locations visited. This study could have a number of applications, including criminal profiling, airport screening, medication adherence monitoring, clinical trial participant stratification, and environmental exposure studies.

Thirty-nine healthy adult volunteers participated in the study. The team swabbed four spots on each person's cell phone and eight spots on each person's right hand, for a total of nearly 500 samples. Then they used a technique called mass spectrometry to identify as many molecules as possible by comparing them to reference structures in a database.

With this information, the researchers developed a personalized lifestyle "read-out" from each phone. Some of the medications they detected on phones included anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal skin creams, hair loss treatments, antidepressants, and eye drops. Food molecules included citrus, caffeine, herbs and spices. Sunscreen ingredients and DEET mosquito repellant were detected on phones even months after they had last been used by the phone owners, suggesting these objects can provide long-term composite lifestyle sketches.

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"By analyzing the molecules they've left behind on their phones, we could tell if a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray--all kinds of things," says first author Amina Bouslimani. …

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