Computer keyboards might be filthier than toilet handles, but smartphones also have a germ story of their own to tell. That story might save a life or put a perpetrator in jail.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, a swab run through chemical analysis from chemicals lingering on a cellphone can offer myriad details, including clues to an individual's diet and alcohol consumption, cosmetic product choices, medication use, clothing and can even offer clues to when someone last visited the beach—and where.
Pieter Dorrestein, who co-authored the study with Amina Bouslimani, told the Washington Post, “We thought about what objects that we most frequently interact with that has the highest chance of demonstrating our proof of principle, that so much could be determined from a sample of these molecules.
“The phone is very obvious,” Dorrestein said. “Most of us spend so much time on our phones, so there are lots of molecules from your hands being transferred to the object itself at all times.”
Dorrestein and Bouslimani think their study could have broad applications in the medical field, such as tracking the effects of medication on a patient, or even in solving crimes, as well as broadening the profile that law enforcement can gather of potential criminals. Similarly, officials might gather samples from other personal items, such as car keys, handbags or other personal items left at a crime scene.
Dorrestein said this study could offer law enforcement more expansive tools beyond tracing remnants of illegal drug use.
“We can actually learn about the lifestyle of an individual,” Dorrestein said.