A subject breathes into the mass spectrometer for breath analysis. The overlaid graph shows an example chemical signature for that person. Image courtesy of ETH Zurich.
Know anyone whose breath really could remove nail polish?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
All jokes aside, everyone's breath contains the molecule acetone. That's the active ingredient in nail-polish remover.
It just also happens to be one of the normal byproducts of human metabolism. As are many other chemicals.
How do we know? Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology tested people's breath. They had nine employees blow into an instrument called a mass spectrometer. It identifies molecules based on the mass of the atoms they contain.
Each person provided one- to two-dozen breath samples over a week. Turns out people's breath bouquet varies throughout day. Yet, despite the variation, each person's sample had a stable and unique core. Meaning that, like a fingerprint, it's a way to identify individuals.
The scientists see it as a tool to advance personalized medicine. Like DNA analysis. But, unlike DNA, breath is dynamic and can reflect changes in diet and behavior.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some nail polish to remove.
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Today, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Deborah Fallows about her book Dreaming in Chinese.
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