Ugh. Touching Your Phone Can Provide the Details To Just About Everything There Is to Know About You

Think of this the next time you pick up your cell.

It call tell everything you do. 

A new study has found that the molecules you leave on your phone every time you touch it can tell what you eat, what kind of moisturizer you use, even how healthy you are and, most scary of all, where you've been.

Examining them for the trace chemicals, molecules and microbes on everything you touch can pretty much tell the story of your life, experts say.  These elements can construct lifestyle sketches for each phone’s owner, including diet, preferred hygiene products, health status and locations visited.

And if you're inclined to commit a crime, watch out, because the number of applications, including criminal profiling, airport screening, medication adherence monitoring, clinical trial participant stratification and environmental exposure studies, can all be told from these simple if icky particles, according to newswise.com.

“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,” says 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?” 

In a 2015 study, Dorrestein’s team constructed 3D models to illustrate the molecules and microbes found at hundreds of locations on the bodies of two healthy adult volunteers. Despite a three-day moratorium on personal hygiene products before the samples were collected, the researchers were surprised to find that the most abundant molecular features in the skin swabs still came from hygiene and beauty products, such as sunscreen.

“All of these chemical traces on our bodies can transfer to objects,” Dorrestein explains. “So we realized we could probably come up with a profile of a person’s lifestyle based on chemistries we can detect on objects they frequently use.”

 Thirty-nine healthy adult volunteers participated in Dorrestein’s latest study. The team swabbed four spots on each person’s cell phone — an object we tend to spend a lot of time touching — and eight spots on each person’s right hand, for a total of nearly 500 samples. Then they used a technique called mass spectrometry to detect molecules from the samples.

They identified as many molecules as possible by comparing them to reference structures in the GNPS database, a crowdsourced mass spectrometry knowledge repository and annotation website developed by Dorrestein and co-author Nuno Bandeira, PhD, associate professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego.

With this information, the researchers developed a personalized lifestyle “read-out” from each phone. Some of the medications they detected on phones included anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal skin creams, hair loss treatments, anti-depressants and eye drops. Food molecules included citrus, caffeine, herbs and spices. Sunscreen ingredients and DEET mosquito repellent were detected on phones even months after they had last been used by the phone owners, suggesting these objects can provide long-term composite lifestyle sketches.

“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.”

Well, for someone like me who loses her cell about once a week, at least that's a good thing. 


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