30 January 2006

Open Access and Earwax

Nicholas Wade in the New York Times has an interesting article about earwax. It seems that there are two types, wet and dry:

The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of the people have it, and the dry form among East Asians, while populations of Southern and Central Asia are roughly half and half. By comparing the DNA of Japanese with each type, the researchers were able to identify the gene that controls which type a person has.

Of course, this makes you want to get the full details - not least because it turns out that this is "the first example of DNA polymorphism determining a visible genetic trait." That is, for the first time, researchers have pinpointed a single letter change in the DNA (out of 3 billion), from a G to an A (the "polymorphism"), that alters something directly observable (the "visible genetic trait") - earwax consistency.

You can read the abstract, but - guess what? - only subscribers get to see the all the gory/waxy details. Surely, when it comes to something as quintessentially human as earwax, we have a right to open access?

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