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Oh, the Earlobe

Back during the genetics unit of high school biology, alongside the Punnett squares, earlobes would also often come up. Since some people have attached earlobes while others have detached ones, they are often used to help teach about dominant and recessive traits. But this seemingly simple earlobe trait might not be, a new study says.

A University of Pittsburgh-led team conducted a genome-wide association study of earlobe attachment in 74,660 people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. As they report in the American Journal of Human Genetics this week, Pittsburgh's Seth Weinberg and his colleagues found nearly 50 genes linked to earlobe attachment.

In one cohort of about 10,000 people who had their earlobes assessed by experts, they uncovered six genes associated with earlobe attachment. In a second group of about 65,000 23andMe customers who self-assessed their earlobes, the researchers again found those six genes, but also another 43 that were linked to earlobe attachment.

"Sometimes the genetics of a fairly simple trait are actually quite complex," first author John Shaffer from Pitt says in a statement.

He adds that if researchers can better understand the complexity of even something like earlobes that could help find treatments for genetic conditions such as Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, which is marked by cupped ears and protruding earlobes.