Cell Phone Grime and You
You know that grime left on your cell phone after you finish talking on it? Well, it could be even more valuable than a fingerprint, according to a new study. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recruited volunteers to have their hands and smartphones swabbed — with some pretty shocking results. The swabs of cell phone grime returned skin creams, hair loss treatments, anti-depressants, eye drops and many other substances. Researchers also found food molecules and even caffeine.
“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,” study author Amina Bouslimani, a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy, said in a statement.
Researchers used a technique called mass spectrometry to sort molecules collected in the swabs and compare them to a chemical database. Particles from the back of a phone were linked to the hands. Those from the front of the phone shed light on a person’s face.
Future phone fingerprints
What does all this mean, besides the fact that we’re all a little more disgusting than we thought? Imagine if you lost your phone and could use the crud swabbed from it to get it back. Or using it as part of an airport screening. Or maybe your doctor checks in to see whether you have been taking your medication regularly. All of these ideas — and many others — are within the realm of possibility, researchers say.
“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,” senior author Pieter Dorrestein to Yahoo! News.
“They would have nothing to go on to determine who that belongs to. So we thought — what if we take advantage of left-behind skin chemistry to tell us what kind of lifestyle this person has?”