Here's another little gem to file under 'What the hell were these researchers smoking and who on earth funds this crap?'
Dry earwax? It's genetic
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Mon Jan 30, 7:23 AM ET
Genetics researchers have uncovered the key gene behind the mystery of human earwax. Finally. The report in Monday's Nature Genetics journal solves a long-running anthropologist's riddle - why many people in China and Korea, as well as elsewhere in Asia, have dry earwax while the rest of humanity enjoys the sticky variety.
(first of all, I have been accused of having some weird questions about things, but I have NEVER wondered about this. and besides....who went around comparing Asian earwax to other varieties in the first place??)
Geneticists had known the neighborhood of the earwax gene from previous work and decided to pin it down. The gene comes in two types, or alleles, corresponding to wet or dry earwax.
(Yes, I am sure it's much more productive to isolate this gene as opposed to the one that causes cancer perhaps.)
By examining 126 Japanese volunteers, the team determined that the dry-earwax gene is recessive, meaning both parents must pass a copy to their children for it to work. To chart a global earwax gene map, the team next looked at volunteers from 33 populations worldwide, from Native Americans to Ashkenazi Jews to Polynesian islanders. The dry-earwax allele probably arose "in northeast Asia and thereafter spread throughout the world," the team concludes.
(A map of the distribution of folks with dry earwax. Now isn't that a nifty little thing you'd like on your living room wall!)
"We're all curious what makes people different," she says. Mountain suggests the dry-earwax allele probably originated within the past 30,000 years, "or even much more recently." Intriguingly, the dry-earwax gene turns up fairly often in Native Americans, in about 30% of a sample of that population.
(Theories of the ancient origin or dry earwax were first considered when archeologists unearthed, along with arrowheads and potsherds, some fossilized matchsticks and q-tips that were covered with the stuff. Cave paintings in the southwest USA also seemed to depict a tribal chief excavating his own ear canal and bestowing it upon those of lesser status by smearing it on their buckskins. This is possibly indicative of a little known earwax cult among indigenous peoples.)
That suggests the emigrants from Asia who first populated North and South America brought the gene with them, the Japanese team says. Dry earwax may have given people in northeast Asia some advantage during past periods of cold climate, not freezing as readily, the researchers suspect, But "this is still pretty speculative," Mountain says.
(Well by all means, we MUST fund further research into this riveting question!)