img_full_59235 You can now add your breath to the list of things (DNA, fingerprints) that make you a unique individual. Researchers at ETH Zurich University report in PLOS ONE that individuals have unique “breathprints” that reveal the chemical reactions happening in the body. The study claims a person’s unique metabolic phenotype (the measure of overall health) is present in exhaled breath.

Credit: P. S. Martinez-Lozano et al., PLOS ONE, 8 (2013)

Credit: P. S. Martinez-Lozano et al., PLOS ONE, 8 (2013)

Eleven members of the ETH staff volunteered to provide breath samples four times a day for nine days. Volunteers blew air into a mass spectrometer, which split the exhalation into its chemical components. Researchers found that while individuals had slight variations sample to sample, they maintained a unique core profile that could identify that person.

Although the study is promising in that it is noninvasive and provides immediate results, it is not without issues. Volunteers did not eat or drink 30 minutes before the test and they brushed their teeth. They were also asked to keep their routine — including diet — constant; something that may not be possible to track in the real world.

Because of this, the researchers suggest initially using the method as a screening. But in the future, when an individual’s breathprint is established, it could be used to diagnose diseases such as cancer, detect drugs an individual is taking, and determine appropriate medication and anaesthesia dosages depending on a person’s metabolic rate.

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