Molecular traces that people leave behind on everyday objects like their mobile phones can be used to generate a picture of their lifestyle, the Huffington Post reports.
Researchers led by Pieter Dorrestein at the University of California, San Diego, swabbed the cell phones and right hands of 39 volunteers and analyzed the swab samples using LC-MS/MS to gauge their chemical composition. They then ran the molecules they uncovered through the crowd-sourced GNPS database. As they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the researchers could then piece together, based on the chemical composition, what sort of beauty products and medications the person had been using as well as his or her diet.
For instance, Dorrestein and his colleagues report that they found traces of skin moisturizer dexpanthenol, the fragrance component m-anisic acid, and DEET within one volunteer's samples. This combination of chemical suggested to them that the volunteer used a mosquito lotion and is likely a camper or backpacker. The volunteer confirmed that she did go camping and used DEET.
Such molecular traces "will reveal the types of soaps, lotions, shampoo, make-up, food ― such as vegetarian versus meat-eater or spicy foods ― type of drinks, medications, even materials of clothing one uses," Dorrestein tells the Huffington Post. "Because our reference databases and analysis infrastructure, we can right now only annotate 2 percent of the data. But as this knowledge increases, the resolution of lifestyle analysis will also improve."
The researchers add that their a profiling approach could be used in forensics as well as in medical and environmental studies.