Ear Wax Reveals Ancient History of Japan
Ear wax... what is it good for? Absolutely nuthin', say it again... OK, it sounded better in the original version by Edwin Starr, but humble ear wax IS good for somethin', at least according to a team of Japanese high school students.
Most people aren't aware of this fact, but ear wax comes in two types wet and dry. Now hold on, don't run off... this obscure factoid has repercussions beyond just grossing you out. For that we can thank the perceptive students of Japan's Nagasaki Nishi High School, one of 101 government-designated "super science high schools" that specialize in math & science. According to a newly published report in the Daily Yomiuri Online , the kids at NNHS spearheaded a project that included students from 42 other super science high schools and gave us... wait for it... a map that charts the prevalence of wet and dry earwax types by province.
You were probably expecting an interstellar anti-gravity drive or a cure for the common cold AND cancer, but hey - give the kids a break, they'll get to it. For now, we have this ear wax map, and what is IT good for? Well, the students knew that a specific gene determines ear wax type and were able to reference a table (via Watashi to Tokyo) showing the rate of wet type ear wax among different ethnic groups:
Black people: 100%
Chinese Taipei: 40%
As you can see, about 85% of Japanese are genetically predisposed to have dry type ear wax. The students then collected fingernail clippings from 771 students living in 32 provinces, extracted the DNA, and isolated the gene that determines ear wax type from each sample. When charted on a map, an odd pattern emerged: "the gene responsible for dry earwax is more common in western Japan."
With me so far? All-righty then. Historians believe that the aboriginal population of Japan (called "Jomon" people) carried the gene for wet ear wax and that the Yayoi people who migrated to Japan from Asia about 2,000 years ago carried the gene for dry ear wax. The distribution map of current ear wax types in Japan created by the students reinforces the existing theory that Japan was invaded from the west from the Asian mainland and those invaders gradually spread to the rest of the country, moving east and north while displacing and/or absorbing the aboriginal population.
Nice going kids! Can we move on to the space flight thing and the cancer cure now?
Japanese Innovations Writer