Do you have dry, flaky earwax or the
gooey, stinky type? The answer is
partly in your heritage. A new study
reveals that the gene responsible for
the drier type originated in an ancient
Northeastern Asian population.
Today, 80-95 percent of East Asians have dry earwax, while 97-
98 percent of Africans and Europeans have the moist variety.
Populations in Southern Asia, the Pacific Islands, Central Asia,
Asia Minor, Native North Americans and Inuit of Asian ancestry,
fall in the middle with dry wax ranging from 30 to 50 percent.
Researchers identified a gene that alters the shape of a cell
membrane channel that controls the flow of molecules that directly
affect earwax type. They found that many East Asians have
a mutation in this gene that prevents cerumen, the molecule
that makes earwax moist, from entering the mix.
Scientists think that the mutation was very common in Northeast
Eurasia and, following a population increase, expanded over the
rest of the continent. Today the gene’s distribution is highest in
North China and Korea.
While there are many hypotheses about the usefulness of earwax,
moist or dry, in truth we have no compelling explanations.
Some speculate that it might play a role in the production of
pheromones, while others have even more exotic suggestions.
Earwax type is a possible adaptation to heat,
cold, humidity, dryness, day, night, sexual attraction
or revulsion, and possibly political orientation.
All we can say for sure is: don’t stick
anything in your ears, especially cotton swabs.