mixing business with pleasure and heating to reflux

what came out of my ear


Saturday night, shortly after that oxalic acid rant, I think I started cracking up. If ever there were a reason not to work alone in lab, this is it. I was standing in front of the rotovap watching the toluene crawl over, ie watching paint dry, when I started idly picking my ear. A huge chunk of wax came out. I stared at the gooey mass and wondered to myself what’s in there?


I had a vague recollection of a 5.08 lecture about the biosynthesis of cholesterol from squalene, and how the latter is a major component of earwax. There’s at least one way to test that hypothesis. I had NMR time anyway so I figured what the hell. I scoped all 36 milligrams of my waxy secretion into a test tube and took it up in CDCl3. I was expecting it to go into solution freely, but there was a mass of material that wouldn’t dissolve even with sonication[1]. So I filtered it through Celite and ran 16 scans on the 400 (vide supra)[2].


Um, yeah. Kind of a greasy mess but still cleaner than a lot of other NMRs I’ve taken. Perhaps more telling were the TLCs that followed. After checking the Wikepedia entry I learned my 5.08 memory about squalene was correct, also that cholesterol itself is a component. So I co-spotted my earwax (EW) against cholesterol (C) and squalene (SQ). Both were in there, along with some unidentified component with an intermediate Rf that streaks a bit. No clue what that is. -addition- One of the commenters proposed that the middle spot is lanosterol; biosynthetic intermediate on the way from squalene to cholesterol. I TLC’d my earwax against the bottle of “practical” grade lanosterol (L) from the stockroom. Lo and behold:


The entire choreographed ballet that is the HMG-CoA reductase pathway being played out in my ear! It’s a beautiful thing[3].


[1] I have this CDCl3-insoluble fraction of my earwax set aside. Perhaps at some future date I’ll see if that’ll go into DMF-d7.
[2] In a weird way, this is the most detailed personal information I’ve ever disclosed on the web. Not sure how I feel about that. Maybe some other people could send me TLCs and NMRs of their earwax; I’ll put them in a gallery. Evidently earwax composition varies among ethnic groups, so we can look into that as well.
[3] If you think this was a waste of time I’d like to point out that more than one person has made a career out of earwaxology… see the Wikipedia references.


  1. secret milkshake
    August 7th, 2006 | 3:48 pm

    FYI: the unidentified spot is probably lanosterol.

    Along similar lines, separation of bilirubin from biliverdin and related pyrrole pigments needs no visualisation as these compounds are colorful. Also, much bigger sample is usualy available.

  2. Sherv
    August 7th, 2006 | 3:53 pm

    This is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Dylan!

  3. August 7th, 2006 | 4:21 pm

    The NMR looks nice…but I didn’t need to see the test tube.

    August 7th, 2006 | 4:36 pm


    For a more detailed analysis of the chemical composition of ear wax, one can do a little chromatography. About half of the dry weight of ear wax is lipid, and it consists of:

    Cholesterol and cholesterol esters: 32.5%
    Fatty acids: 22.7%
    Ceramides: 18.6%
    Squalene: 6.4%

    Triacylglycerols: 3.0%
    Everyone with a little biology or chemistry background will recognize these as quite ordinary products.

    Surprising that earwax composition has been used as a genetic
    marker. (Dont want to know what genetist can do with snots..)

  5. Johnny Nucleo
    August 7th, 2006 | 4:43 pm

    Let’s all agree to leave the NMR of the mixture of bilirubin, bilivirdin and associated pyrrole pigments a mystery, please, just so nobody gets all fact-checkity when I say my NMR looks like crap.

  6. hee hee
    August 7th, 2006 | 5:12 pm

    The best part is the experimental: “…were collected at -20°C using deep-freeze toilets.” Sounds chilly!

    Here’s another:

    Apparently these compounds are mutagenic, which gives us another reason not to play with our poop.

    I’d run across another paper about the fecapentaenes a few years ago (back in the days of photocopies) as it followed the reference I was looking for. Of course I giggled for about an hour.

    Ahhh, toilet humor…

  7. August 7th, 2006 | 5:27 pm

    In the future everybody will agree with Uncle Al,

    If you had a Rolls-Royce budget saturated squalane would be your oil bath, bp = ~450 C.

  8. August 7th, 2006 | 6:03 pm

    >FYI: the unidentified spot is probably lanosterol.

    milkshake: I am equal parts impressed and freightened by your predictivate powers. see update.

  9. chem
    August 7th, 2006 | 7:19 pm

    “petroleum ether”? okay, grandpa. lol.

  10. Sherv
    August 7th, 2006 | 7:57 pm

    Don’t be freightened, Dylan. This blog ain’t heavy, it’s my brother!

  11. darkside
    August 7th, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    Dude you should totally put up those TLCs on wikipedia, or at least upload them to wikimedia commons. Don’t forget protocols — I presume that’s CAM staining?

  12. jim
    August 7th, 2006 | 8:07 pm

    chem: “petroleum ether”? okay, grandpa. lol.
    is there a different, younger name?

  13. darkside
    August 7th, 2006 | 8:08 pm

    the HMG-CoA pathway article would probably be the best entry to put it in. Images #1 and #3 are the most illustrative. What scares me the most is that you kept the sample long enough so that in the meantime, you blogged, and were able to re-TLC it after milkshake’s comment.

  14. secret milkshake
    August 7th, 2006 | 8:24 pm

    I did not see the wiki entry but I knew lanosterol is on the path and it should be a little bit faster than cholesterol because of extra methyl. I figured if lanosterol is the major greasy stuff in sheep wool, it must be in Dylan’s ears too.

  15. darkside
    August 7th, 2006 | 8:29 pm

    dude, the world needs more people like you.

  16. August 7th, 2006 | 9:21 pm

    I demand a follow-up where you tell us what the CDCl3-insoluble fraction of your sample was.

  17. GOD
    August 7th, 2006 | 9:47 pm

    I gave my approval of my apostle’s demand at #16. Other wise Dyalan, you become a sinner in My eyes for tempting and thwarting the insatiable intellect of my people.

  18. kilroy
    August 7th, 2006 | 10:00 pm

    This is fantastic. I’ll be testing my earwax as soon as I can build up enough.

    The question is: what is the best method for the extraction of earwax from ones ear. Microspatula? Pipet? Pencil eraser? Key? A straight shot of CDCl3 in the ear?

    Sure, the Q-tip is the classic, but not very creative.

  19. kitchin chemist
    August 7th, 2006 | 10:45 pm

    i’m going to guess it’s sodium laurylsulfate or the likes… leftover shampoo/conditioner/soap loufa scrub… it’s not going to look impressive in the nmr… we’re going to need mass spec…

    i remember a genetics question regarding people who can’t digest the red pigment in beets who therefore have red bowel movements, crossed against people with hard ear wax (some apparent mendelian trait in humans, of particular high frequency in the asian population?)… does anyone else remember questions about this?

  20. kitchin chemist
    August 7th, 2006 | 10:47 pm

    wikipedia update, the pigment is betacyanins:
    they “can cause red urine and faeces in some people who are unable to break it down.”

    damn…where’s my copy of leninger when i need it?

  21. um wow
    August 8th, 2006 | 12:22 am

    When was the last time you used a q-tip in there?!! that is a huge gross load of earwax!

  22. aldehyde
    August 8th, 2006 | 12:48 am

    This is the greatest thing I have ever read.

  23. August 8th, 2006 | 12:57 am

    Dylan, you are a dirty little man, but with good skills. It’s been a long time since one incident left me feeling equally impressed and violated. Which bodily secretion is next (one of Steve Ley’s group has already done urine, with an interestingly high EtOH peak…)?

  24. Chemist Down Under
    August 8th, 2006 | 1:06 am

    Behold science in all its glory!

    One of the biologist guys at my institute has taken a flask into the bathroom, come back and checked his um… er… man-juice under a microscope to see how his boys were swimming.

    Try getting THAT in an NMR tube, Dylan.

  25. TB
    August 8th, 2006 | 1:31 am

    “Evidently earwax composition varies among ethnic groups, so we can look into that as well.”

    Such a study must surely be worthy of an Ig Nobel prize.

  26. Lou
    August 8th, 2006 | 2:01 am

    This is wonderful science. My earwax is more runny than gunky…I wonder how that will compare to your sample.
    Anyway, there has been an earwax study, and it’s in Nature Genetics here:

    We’re overdue for a more chemical perspective.

  27. squeakad
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:29 am

    That is completely awesome Dylan!

    It might make it into my collection of interesting but useless facts to do with cholesterol that will be appearing in my PhD oration in 2 months time.

  28. around the corner and down the hall
    August 8th, 2006 | 5:19 am

    File this under the “why didn’t I think of that” category, I’m always pulling that crap out of my ears. Correct me if I’m wrong though, cholesterol does not have a gem-dimethyl group at the C-4 position.

  29. Don B
    August 8th, 2006 | 6:17 am

    How does your ear wax compare to your LDL;HDL and triglyceride levels from a fasting blood sample. Perhaps you have a cheap way (NMR) to check for high LDL.
    Don B.

  30. August 8th, 2006 | 7:35 am

    Yeah I heard the one about Asian people having dry, flaky earwax as compared to Caucasian peoples having wet, sticky earwax. Sticky earwax is apparently also correlated to body odor.

    For example, this NYT article:

  31. JohnK
    August 8th, 2006 | 7:40 am

    Did you know that Asians and Europeans have distinctly different ear-waxes?
    Asia - dry crusty
    Europeans - wet gooey
    Thought I’d share - presents new directions to pursue.

  32. FormerSynthChemist
    August 8th, 2006 | 7:44 am

    Pure genius.

  33. sambudvar
    August 8th, 2006 | 7:53 am

    This would make a great freshman chem lab assignment. More interesting than the old separating Excedrin by TLC lab.

  34. August 8th, 2006 | 7:57 am

    Tried this one many years ago (before FT-nmr) on Varian HA-100 and EM-360 (the name was marketing hype - it was a *60* MHz machine suitable for use by undergrads) machines - we could just about tell there was something vaguely steroidal in there. Vibrational spectroscopy (IR and Raman - both non-FT) didn’t help, either, and they wouldn’t let us use the GC/MS machine….

    We did try tlc, but the eluent we had to hand (a blasphemous mixture of isoamyl alcohol, pyridine and acetic acid) didn’t seem to do much.

    [Incidentally, the really old chemists in my day called 40-60 pet. ether “ligroin”]

  35. August 8th, 2006 | 8:35 am

    Hey, if the bottle from aldrich says “Petroleum Ether” on it, it’s petroleum ether, or pet. ether at a push. I have no idea what “chem” is reffering to…

  36. failedreaction
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:07 am

    Wheres your C13 NMR dylan? naughty naughty. anyhow thats mint, you learn something everyday and and a quick probe of bodily secretions is just a good a topic if any.

    Keep up the beastly work dood.

  37. August 8th, 2006 | 9:09 am

    1. This is one of the few interesting articles that I have read, more so because it brings Biosynthesis lecture to real life. Great work, hope to see more interesting but less disgusting articles on this blog.
    2.Wonder, what kind of stain did you use on the TLC.

  38. Jose
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:11 am

    Don’t forget Skelly solvent!

    Actually, if memory serves, pet. ether is lower boiling fractions than ligroin. I’ll need to look up the bp range for Skelly solv…

  39. darkside
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:18 am

    I was reading about a common genetic mutation that occurs in my people which is supposed to predispose me to the disease I’m studying. I already had the primers for screen myself for this, so I froze down some of my… haploid cells… and I’m just waiting to get the courage to run PCR on them… I think your blog has given me the courage to do this.

    Also — 19 steps from lanosterol to cholesterol? Roche says 7. Are they cheating with the gem-dimethyl bis(decarboxylation) to get to zymosterol??

  40. August 8th, 2006 | 10:49 am

    Hats off!

  41. August 8th, 2006 | 10:57 am

    You surely deserve an Ig Nobel for this

  42. jimmy chemist
    August 8th, 2006 | 11:01 am

    keep jumping. that shark won’t get the fonz.

  43. JJbites
    August 8th, 2006 | 11:36 am

    If only I knew what was in eye boogers.

  44. Jeremy
    August 8th, 2006 | 11:51 am

    Does any of the insoluble stuff dissolve in water? Could be homemade NaCl

  45. druidbros
    August 8th, 2006 | 11:56 am

    Well now I know what you did on a Saturday night. You are a true scientist.

  46. Scott
    August 8th, 2006 | 12:02 pm

    He can only get an Ig Noble for this work if he managed to do it with government funding. Dylan, who signs your check?

  47. Joe
    August 8th, 2006 | 12:34 pm

    As computer engineer who actually enjoyed his chemistry lectures and labs, this is great! Thanks for being so open with your personal life.

  48. Madison
    August 8th, 2006 | 12:42 pm

    As a decidedly non-lazy biologist I’ve gotta give props to chemists to go and probe themselves. Nothing like mixing work with personal affairs. Now if I could find some way to keep my friends and family from being grossed out after finding mouse embryos in the fridge on those occasions that work follows me home…. problems I’m sure you don’t have. Will definately call the elevator next time I’m drinking away some bad data.

    Congrats on getting posted on BoingBoing!!

  49. August 8th, 2006 | 12:59 pm

    Congratulations on making it onto the page! Your traffic is going to skyrocket now.

  50. JZB
    August 8th, 2006 | 1:15 pm

    HMG CoA Red…. this is the rate limiting step to Cholesterol Synthesis. It’s the basis behind AntiCholesteric drugs…

    In your ear?

  51. don
    August 8th, 2006 | 1:26 pm

    I think you have way to much time on your hands

  52. August 8th, 2006 | 1:35 pm

    […] Someday my peeps from Carleton College will realize I have a blog, and they will come across this post, and they will feel the deeply pleasurable sensation of discovering a kindred spirit staying up late in the laboratory. That is what happened to Dylan Stiles at the Trost lab, Stanford University. If you read on in his post, you’ll discover a delightful remark about HMG-CoA reductase pathways. I really believe that the biological and chemical processes of the natural world hold such wonder. They are (for me) a direct reflection of the beauty and (((tumultuous))) order of God. Didn’t think I could take this topic into spiritual realms? Gravy! When it comes to biology and chemistry, I am all about drawing closer to God. It’s those moments when we stop and let the beauty of whatever system we’re studying wash over us. How the pieces fit together. […]

  53. Mike
    August 8th, 2006 | 1:38 pm

    Hmm. Mention of 5.08 means the author was an undegrad at the ‘tute. All is explained…

  54. August 8th, 2006 | 1:49 pm

    […] » what came out of my ear […]

  55. August 8th, 2006 | 1:52 pm

    […] Scientist is bored in the lab one night. He stabs a finger in his ear and pulls out earwax. He thinks “Hmm. What is this made from.” Hilarity ensues. […]

  56. August 8th, 2006 | 1:57 pm

    Man analyseert eigen oorsmeer….

  57. DM
    August 8th, 2006 | 2:02 pm

    So heres a study idea: is there a rough correlation between the amount of earwax a person has and their blood cholesterol levels?

  58. August 8th, 2006 | 2:10 pm

    You must descrive for us what your ear wax smelled like.

  59. August 8th, 2006 | 2:28 pm

    Ear wax exposed…

    Scientist Dylan Stiles, who works in the Trost lab at Stanford University analyzes the chemical composition of his ear wax. Warning; what he discovered may blow you away, or put you to sleep….

  60. slackbp
    August 8th, 2006 | 2:29 pm

    Did you know that cats like earwax? It’s true.

  61. August 8th, 2006 | 2:40 pm

    I hereby claim an alternative use for Lipitor; as an earwax reducer for beauty conscious men and women.

  62. Kiptonite
    August 8th, 2006 | 2:54 pm

    Ninja’ed by Ashutosh.

  63. lab chemist
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:01 pm

    Great post. I’m Asian, and my earwax is dry and flaky. In response to dreamer’s question about tlc stain, is it cerium molybdate?

  64. Zen
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:01 pm


  65. August 8th, 2006 | 3:04 pm

    […] Okay, so it’s not rocket science but it is still science.I think that some of the early key words are “Saturday night”, “lab”, and “I started cracking up”. As someone plaqued by the LDL/HDL ratio, I’m curious to follow one commentors theory too. […]

  66. ioBuddha
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:06 pm

    No one has pointed out that ‘Earwax’ tastes bitter. It has the same taste quality as putting a 9-Volt battery on your tongue.

  67. Linda
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:08 pm

    Oh, my God you guys - SOOOOOO need to get a girlfriend!
    Trust me there are definitely better things to do on a Saturday night than run analysises (Sp?) of bodily out put!

  68. Hank Roberts
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:13 pm

    And a note from my old high school pal who’s long been an emergency room doctor: don’t use Q-Tips. It’s a, er, slippery slope on a one-way street.

    He says one of the common, unappetizing tasks for the ER staff is digging out the lumps of earwax that people have, over time, using Q-tips, managed to tamp down into their ear canals up against their eardrums.

    Eventually the opening closes entirely, suddenly they can’t hear, and they rush into the ER to find out why they’re going deaf.

  69. ratbone
    August 8th, 2006 | 3:15 pm

    i have been collecting my earwax for about a year. tho fully non asian i have the dry kind which i pry out with the end of incense stick. why do i do this? i am hoping to have a small black deathday cakecake at my wake with candles made from my own earwax. i have been wondering about the so called “wax” and now as a non scientist i still do but i know you or someone here will know. this stuff will burn, right? be a nice stiff candle at room temperature? can you think of a personally produced substance that would colour these candles black? thanks for your help.

  70. Grumppy
    August 8th, 2006 | 4:01 pm

    “Oh, my God you guys - SOOOOOO need to get a girlfriend!
    Trust me there are definitely better things to do on a Saturday night than run analysises (Sp?) of bodily out put!”

    Linda baby, you don’t understand… running scientific analysis of our own bodily junk is by far more interesting and entertaining than listening to “how cute the neighbour’s cat is” from the girlfriend. I have lied about my whereabouts to my gf to be in the lab many times. Sorry to bust you self-esteem, but you girls are boring.

  71. numb
    August 8th, 2006 | 4:03 pm

    once my earwax ended up on my tongue and it went numb. i tried it again several days later and it had the same effect. someone told me earwax has anesthetic properties. any comment besides “ewww thats gross!”

  72. evgeny
    August 8th, 2006 | 4:18 pm

    We need to direct all of this extra traffic from some weird website I’ve never heard about towards the ‘gossip and slander’ category.

    I await, with anticipation…

  73. TJ
    August 8th, 2006 | 4:27 pm

    “i remember a genetics question regarding people who can’t digest the red pigment in beets who therefore have red bowel movements…”

    A few years ago I opened a can of beets and, thinking “I wonder what the juice tastes like”, drank it all.
    A few hours later I had forgotten about when, relieving myself, I was shocked to see that somehow I’d suffered a severe internal hemorrhage. After about 10 minutes of worry, I remembered the beets.

  74. August 8th, 2006 | 4:39 pm

    […] Like checking out the chemical composition of your ear wax, using NMR and TLC. […]

  75. Course 5 UROP
    August 8th, 2006 | 4:59 pm

    You got all of that out of a 5.08 lecture? All I remember from that class is Stubbe’s screensaver pics of Enzy when she deviated from her rRNA discussions.

  76. yummy earwax
    August 8th, 2006 | 5:22 pm

    [”someone told me earwax has anesthetic properties”]

    I’m a girl and I find earwax fascinating (probably bec. my ears make so much of it). I get the sticky brown/black kind. Yuck! If I saved enough of it and rolled it I could probably burn a wick from both ends and light up the whole house…

    Anyway, regarding the above quote, I had heard/read somewhere that earwax has been used as anesthetic properties by some cultures for thousands of years. It sounds gross but hey, it actually works then why not use it?

    I think earwax could be very useful for humans. Why should we waste it by throwing it on the ground for the ants to carry away to their nests?

  77. August 8th, 2006 | 5:31 pm

    […] of my ear » what came out of my ear Saturday night, shortly after that oxalic acid rant, I think I started cracking up. If ever therewere a reason not to work alone in lab, this is it. I was standing in front of the rotovap watching the toluene crawl over, ie watching paint dry, when I started idly picking my ear. A huge chunk of wax came out. I stared at the gooey mass and wondered to myself what’s in there? […]

  78. August 8th, 2006 | 5:48 pm

    That is super awesome and super disgusting.

    Love it. =)

    Keep up the good science ;)

  79. evgeny
    August 8th, 2006 | 6:00 pm

    “Oh, my God you guys - SOOOOOO need to get a girlfriend!
    Trust me there are definitely better things to do on a Saturday night”

    What do girls do on Saturday nights anyways? I have a girlfriend, but she usually spends Saturday night in the lab doing chemistry stuff. So, if I don’t feel like going to the lab, I’m forced to sit at home and play video games or wander outside in the dark forest. I’d tell my girlfriend that “this person on a blog said that women are supposed to be doing other stuff than chemistry on the weekend and she should become more interesting by dragging me out of the lab on Saturday night and doing womanly stuff so that I would forget about research”, but she usually hits me when I say stuff like that…

  80. August 8th, 2006 | 6:00 pm

    Well played, sir.

    Well played.

  81. TROEF
    August 8th, 2006 | 6:17 pm

    J.B.S. Haldane would approve!

  82. beantowner
    August 8th, 2006 | 6:29 pm

    for the record, you did not “co” spot…two lanes side by side is not sufficient to claim that the spots are the same chemical by TLC…I have lectured undergraduates ad nauseum about the importance of a central lane where *both* samples are spotted together. A true co-spot should precede any posting on wikipedia :)

  83. Murali
    August 8th, 2006 | 6:50 pm

    I have attained a new level in my tolerence for gross stuff. I actually read this while eating my tuna-melt and probably was focussed on the science aspect of it all.

    I didnt think how yucky it was until I finished reading and started reflecting on it.

    good stuff. the spirit of science lives on. yay.

  84. DB
    August 8th, 2006 | 7:18 pm

    It would be interesting to test earwax before and after exposure to an HMG CoA reductase inhibitor. Any takers? I guarantee that anyone who could find a way to follow cholesterol treatment without blood draws would be a hero.

  85. August 8th, 2006 | 7:43 pm

    >In response to dreamer’s question about tlc stain, is it cerium molybdate?

    yeah, CAN stain. KMnO4 stained the top spot (squalene), but none of the others. makes sense, lots of double bonds for the permanganate to sink its teeth into.

    I tried to take a 13C NMR and acquired for a few minutes, but the signal was weak and I couldn’t justify doing an overnight. gotta start collecting Q-tips at home… maybe after a month or so I’ll have enough for a carbon NMR.

  86. Anonymous
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:42 pm


    no, for real.

  87. milo
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:45 pm

    re: #82

    All to true, but identical rf (as in a co-spot) does not prove two things are identical, but it sure supports it!

  88. Anonymous
    August 8th, 2006 | 9:53 pm

    But no one has ever provided a convincing analysis of fart gas. A follow-up paper?

    Dangerous bill

  89. Chemist Down Under
    August 8th, 2006 | 10:43 pm

    I think Mythbusters collected a fart and ran it through a GCMS, or was it just an MS. anyway, they saw all the predicted ions - H2S, SO2, and whatever else.

  90. secret milkshake
    August 8th, 2006 | 10:45 pm

    Somebody actualy did a GC analysis of fart, with nose as a detector at the GC outlet (a common technique in perfume analysis) .

    Surprise surprise, H2S turned out to be the stinkiest component of fart gas although there were others.

    Google “flatus GC analysis” in Scholar, I am sure it is somewhere out there in public domain

  91. Chamillionaire
    August 9th, 2006 | 12:45 am

    grats on the boingboing pickup.

  92. Jeroenemans
    August 9th, 2006 | 1:09 am

    There’s a whole field of science involved in the analysis of body fluids: it’s called metabolomics and I just did my Ph D in it.. Usually urine is used, but more obscure excretions have been used before (like sweat).. this is a link to the journal..

  93. Jeroenemans
    August 9th, 2006 | 1:10 am

    and furthermore the chemical composition of earwax has been topic of discussion in the ‘new scientist’ reader question section. It has been reproduced in the book “Does anything eat wasps?”

  94. hakka
    August 9th, 2006 | 2:27 am

    ok you have to put oil of mullein in your ear to soften up the wax, then you syringe warm water into the canal,when it comes out, I swear the wax is the size of a small goldfish!

  95. NelC
    August 9th, 2006 | 3:51 am

    Does it matter what oil you use to soften your earwax? When I had a bit of a build-up a few years ago, the surgery nurse recommended olive oil.

  96. August 9th, 2006 | 4:59 am

    […] Link (Thanks, Phil!) […]

  97. userlame
    August 9th, 2006 | 5:18 am

    Doesn’t Stanford have a 800 MHz?

  98. August 9th, 2006 | 5:49 am

    […] » what came out of my ear The chemical composition of earwax. Yummy! (tags: science chemistry ick yuck blech) […]

  99. BM
    August 9th, 2006 | 6:25 am

    getting close to the century mark…

  100. August 9th, 2006 | 6:28 am

    […] Link […]

  101. Peter
    August 9th, 2006 | 6:38 am

    I’ve always had an overabundance of earwax, even as a teenager. I also have an unusually high cholesterol count, which runs in the family. It occurred to me a number of years ago that these two things might be related, given the thick, sticky composition of earwax. I don’t really understand the science of the article above very well, but the fact that cholesterol is a component of earwax tells me that my thesis of a correlation between cholesterol count and earwax production is at least plausible.

  102. AJ
    August 9th, 2006 | 7:02 am

    Related to the comment about cats and earwax…. One of our cats follows me around the bathroom with the hopes that I’ll clean out my ears. She loves my ear wax. Hate’s my husband’s. None of the rest of our cats has this fixation on human earwax as a treat. Both my spouse and I have high cholesterol. This study fascinates me. It makes me think that there’s something different in my chemistry.

    This same cat, had ear mites and lots of ear medications as a kitten. She now produces a great deal of earwax that I clean out weekly. She’s not interested in grooming her own earwax, just mine. It’s like having a tiny little vampire with sharp claws hovering about my neck and ears. And sometimes our trashcan.

    More than you wanted to know about us, but my dear husband knew I’d find this whole stream fascinating.

  103. FormerSynthChemist
    August 9th, 2006 | 7:37 am

    I discovered the cat + ear wax = love equation recently as well. I always let our cats sniff at new smells just to see what they will do. Anyway, I was idly cleaning out my ear one morning, and I let my cat sniff it. She proceeded to lick it off. I assume it’s just their natural response to that flavor, since they clean their own ears that way.

  104. evgeny
    August 9th, 2006 | 8:01 am

    It probably has something to do with salts in ear wax. Cat’s really like to lick human hands for the same reason. Although I guess the flavour of certain wax might add to it, but I heard that cats are almost like deer in their desire for salt. Since there is a rather sizable organic-insoluble fraction, that might be the case.

    But, since Dylan posted on the Electrospray that his department has, it would be no trouble at all to dissolve it in water and run an extra sample next time he goes to use it.

  105. August 9th, 2006 | 8:29 am

    I’ve always wondered exactly what was in that stuff. Thanks, I guess! :-)

  106. Steph
    August 9th, 2006 | 9:30 am

    Wow. I never knew Caucasian ear wax looked like that. Pretty nasty.

  107. avid reader
    August 9th, 2006 | 10:41 am

    So Dylan, What would your anti-Aldrich warning say on your earwax test tube? “Some nasty $$$$ inside”. Should also include the old “according to the New Jersey disclosure law, this tube may contain unknown substances”

    Keep up the good work, and if you ever decide to undertake a smegma anaylsis as listed in Homo-Lumo’s comment, please post a very large warning (possibly with an e-consent and waiver form).


  108. August 9th, 2006 | 11:37 am

    […] In any event, I came across this blog post yesterday, and found it fascinating, so I thought I would share it with all you lovers of things repulsive. There are pics as well, some of them not gross, even. I had a vague recollection of a 5.08 lecture about the biosynthesis of cholesterol from squalene, and how the latter is a major component of earwax. There’s at least one way to test that hypothesis. I had NMR time anyway so I figured what the hell. I scoped all 36 milligrams of my waxy secretion into a test tube and took it up in CDCl3. I was expecting it to go into solution freely, but there was a mass of material that wouldn’t dissolve even with sonication[1]. So I filtered it through Celite and ran 16 scans on the 400 (vide supra)[2]. […]

  109. dennis
    August 9th, 2006 | 1:37 pm


    You need a new category: “Useful Synthetic Procedures” or something like that. It took me a while to find your HCl prep in the “fun in the lab” section.

  110. Formaldehyde
    August 9th, 2006 | 1:47 pm

    Why did you run an impure substance on an NMR? What frequency is the NMR btw…just curious

  111. Chymistrygirl
    August 9th, 2006 | 2:49 pm

    “Why did you run an impure substance on an NMR? What frequency is the NMR btw…just curious”

    Why would you NOT run a crude NMR? I thought it was a standard of good technique. And why would he go to the trouble of running a column (which is a waste of resources) when it’s just ear wax?

  112. Grumppy
    August 9th, 2006 | 2:54 pm

    “Why did you run an impure substance on an NMR? What frequency is the NMR btw…just curious ”

    Formaldehyde, you are an idiot.

  113. mars2001
    August 9th, 2006 | 3:51 pm

    facinating stuff… I was going to make a joke about organoleptic testing, but it’s already been done to the Nth… Instead, I’ll simply report that analysis ground to a halt in the lab this afternoon after the link to your blog was distributed companywide - Thanks.

  114. David Harmon
    August 9th, 2006 | 6:15 pm

    As a hearing-aid wearer, I too have noted that my cat likes earwax. For ratbone and “yummy”: the stuff is *very* flammable, almost explosively so. Torching a bit on a paper clip yields a small fireball! Candles might be a bit *too* lively.

  115. August 9th, 2006 | 7:49 pm

    […] Sometimes, people just run out of things to do during the summer. […]

  116. August 10th, 2006 | 11:38 am

    Thanks for the fun. I wrote about the genetics, in case you want to see more, you can read about the gene, here.

  117. August 10th, 2006 | 11:44 am

    It would be interesting to expand this research to include other similar body secretions. For example: a tlc of smegma vs. ear wax would be most interesting.

  118. PhD veteran
    August 10th, 2006 | 1:13 pm

    From a former NMR slave, plaudits to the man with the earwax and the deuterochloroform…

    And before anyone scoffs at this use of expensive machine-time, remember this - the greatest ever NMR-based medical advance, MRI, started out in the 70s with one Prof at SUNY Stony Brook, Paul Lauterbur, tinkering about trying to make 2-dimensional pictures of tubes of water and bits of sea-shells. See e.g.:

    .. you never know where a bit of curiosity-driven tinkering will end up.

  119. August 10th, 2006 | 2:50 pm

    Thank you for waxing lyrical on this, Dylan …

  120. August 10th, 2006 | 11:56 pm

    57 “DM” and 101 “Peter” think like me.
    HMG CoA Reductase enzyme inhibition is
    a fascinating subject since statins have
    been found to imitate ascorbate in this
    pathway to control of plasma cholesterol.
    As an optometrist mad about the biochem of
    ascorbate, I received an appeal from an optom’s
    wife whose daughter was dying; losing weight
    after 2 yrs antibiotics and physio to help
    breathing x2/day at hospital. Paediatrician
    could do no more. I sent 2×200 gram pots
    Sod. Ascorbate and kid was better in no time
    and back at school after 2 year break.
    Mum commented - Her earwax was BLACK until
    she had the ascorbate. HMG . . . .???

  121. August 11th, 2006 | 3:36 am

    […] Link (Thanks, Phil!) […]

  122. this guy
    August 11th, 2006 | 1:53 pm

    dude you might wanna start using Q-tips!

  123. DMA
    August 12th, 2006 | 8:56 am

    I work with a GC/MS, but we’re only calibrated for volatile organics. I’d be willing to try an analysis, but I doubt there’s any benzene in my ears. I certainly HOPE not.

  124. August 13th, 2006 | 11:16 am

    Ciêntisca analiza a composição química de sua cêra de ouvido…

  125. ML
    August 15th, 2006 | 8:47 am

    there’s a whole cadre of pulmonology folk (and quite a few occupational safety geeks as well) who devote their time to the analysis of exhaled breath condensate. yup, that would be the moisture exiting one’s lungs. we’re interested in inflammation (asthma, CF, COPD, etc), and the OS folks tend to be interested in asbestiosis (sp?) and aromatics, stuff like that. it tends toward the ridiculous(ly difficult), but it’s pretty interesting.

  126. August 17th, 2006 | 6:59 am

    […] Link (Thanks, Phil!) […]

  127. August 17th, 2006 | 1:53 pm

    […] haha ew […]

  128. Seaymour Butts
    August 19th, 2006 | 1:44 pm

    When’s your next blog going to come out about “What came out of my butt?”

  129. August 20th, 2006 | 9:02 am

    […] This needs to all have a point, of course. As you can see in my time elapsed pictograph, the accumulation of bacon cheeseburgers on the arterial wall causes constriction of blood flow. Not eating like a goddamn pig may help prevent that or, if you can’t stop your little hooves from pushing it into your mouth, you could always take Lipitor. If excess cholesterol were simply responsible for bad breath or disgusting blog entries, it wouldn’t be a 30+ billion dollar annual industry. Lowering cholesterol may mean a significantly longer life span for some people and most people would agree that’s a good thing. This is why Lipitor is the number one pharmaceutical in the world and why fatsos can continue to order disgustingly enormous cheeseburgers without fear of a sudden heart attack when they turn 27. (hooray for fatsos!) […]

  130. August 23rd, 2006 | 12:18 am

    […] […]

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