Mysterious Earwax Gene

Did you know that earwax comes in two types, wet AND dry? Neither did I, and quite honestly I never really thought much about it. Some Japanese scientist did though, and now they’ve figured out more than I ever thought I’d know about earwax. No… REALLY! These guys published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Genetics.

Via the New York Times:

The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of people have it, and the dry form among East Asians. The populations of South and Central Asia are roughly half and half.

My genes say I should have wet earwax, but that WAS a personal matter, and I preferred not to make it public knowledge! Good job guys Now everyone will be able to extrapolate their neighbor’s earwax type. Is nothing sacred?

Apparently by comparing the DNA of these two groups, these scientists were able discover a lot about the gene determines the type of earwax found in your friend’s ears.

The switch of a single DNA unit in the gene determines whether a person has wet or dry earwax. The gene’s role seems to be to export substances out of the cells that secrete earwax. The single DNA change deactivates the gene and, without its contribution, a person has dry earwax.

As fascinating as all this DNA switching, earwax wetting trivia is, I was truly interested to learn a bit more about genetics. The gene which affects earwax is known to geneticists as the ATP-binding cassette C11 gene. This is found in a long strain of DNA containing three other genes that have very little variation from one person to another. Apparently this is important because the lack of variation in DNA usually indicates that the gene is very important to the survival of the organism. In this case, however, earwax just seems to be “biological flypaper“, and really not all that critical.

Lack of variation in a sequence of DNA units is often the signature of a new gene so important for survival that it has swept through the population, erasing all the previous variation that had accumulated in the course of evolution.

Thank GOD that there are people out there contributing to the greater knowledge of earwax.

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