Breath­prints

Could your breath be as unique as your fin­ger­print?

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We all know that no two fin­ger­prints are iden­ti­cal, but new re­search is sug­gest­ing that your breath may be as unique as the pat­terns on the tips of your fin­gers.

When you breathe out, it’s not just CO2 you’re re­leas­ing into the at­mos­phere; there are also left­over me­tab­o­lites from all the pro­cesses that are re­quired to keep­ing your body alive. Re­nato Zenobi at the Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Zurich and his col­leagues dis­cov­ered breath­prints by analysing the ex­ha­la­tions of 11 healthy in­di­vid­u­als and found they re­mained sta­ble over each day and over the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion (nine days). This means that al­though we al­ready use breathal­y­sers to test al­co­hol con­tent, we could also po­ten­tially use them to de­tect a lot more. Your in­di­vid­ual breath­print has a spe­cific chem­i­cal pat­tern which is unique to you, so changes in it could in­di­cate dis­ease. Us­ing a mass spec­trom­e­ter (a de­vice that sep­a­rates mol­e­cules by mass) it is pos­si­ble to map a pa­tient’s unique breath­print, track changes and de­tect pat­terns that sug­gest there may be an un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion.

The next stages of re­search will at­tempt to de­ter­mine as­pects of breath­prints that are in­dica­tive of dis­ease. This faster, cheaper and less in­va­sive di­ag­nos­tic method could re­place blood tests, pro­vid­ing the mol­e­cules of in­ter­est are volatile and small enough to be passed from the blood into the alve­oli of our lungs.

Your breath con­tains me­tab­o­lites that could be used to di­ag­nose dis­ease

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