A rather disconcerting new study indicates that the molecules on our phone can reveal our deepest secrets.
That mobile phone you put to your ear may hold the secrets to your entire life, a surprising new study has found. Scientists have determined that molecules on mobile phones can reveal a lot of about the health and lifestyle of the owner, including what kind of food they eat and what medications they take.
In the study, researchers were able to find traces of caffeine, spices, anti-depressants and a host of other substances after examining 40 phones, according to a statement from the University of California – San Diego. And that holds true even if you wash your hands thoroughly – it’s simply impossible to avoid leaving traces of molecules, chemicals and bacteria on the things we touch.
The scientists used mass spectometry to test 500 samples from 40 mobile phones and their hands. They compared them to molecules in a database and were able to assemble “lifestyle profiles” of the individual owners of the phones. Scientists could determine if the owner was female, if they used a lot of makeup, if they prefer beer over wine, and if they suffer from depression.
“You can imagine a scenario where a crime scene investigator comes across a personal object — like a phone, pen or key — without fingerprints or DNA, or with prints or DNA not found in the database. They would have nothing to go on to determine who that belongs to,” said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor in UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “So we thought — what if we take advantage of left-behind skin chemistry to tell us what kind of lifestyle this person has?”
“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 — and therefore likely spends a lot of time outdoors — all kinds of things,” said first author Amina Bouslimani, PhD, an assistant project scientist in Dorrestein’s lab. “This is the kind of information that could help an investigator narrow down the search for an object’s owner.”