Triangle researchers want samples from your ears and armpits

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – In the midst of this summer heat would you be brave enough to go two days without deodorant?

That’s what local researchers are asking people to do in order to study tiny organisms that live on the skin.

CBS North Carolina talked to those researchers Wednesday about why they’re taking samples from armpits.

Volunteers for this research project are subjected to some pretty intense methods, hitting all the ticklish spots.

Researchers want samples from noses, ears, armpits and ankles to study microbes that live there.


“You probably have two to three pounds of microbe cells on your body,” said Julie Horvath, a Researcher with NCCU and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Horvath is looking into all the factors that impact microbes.

“How our human genetics and daily habits influence the microbes on our body, and how does that in turn influence our health?” she posed.

Horvath is taking samples from volunteers who have gone two days without cleaning their ears or putting on deodorant.

That absence of cleaning and product lets the microbes build up.

“Not wearing products for a couple of days, I was curious about what would happen. Like, would I smell terrible? Would I be dripping with sweat?” said participant Chris Smith, who wasn’t so sweaty after all.

Horvath says not sweating is thanks to a particular gene that controls sweating and earwax.

She says if you have wet earwax as opposed to dry and flaky, you sweat more.

People that sweat more have more microbes.

“The microbes are actually drinking your sweat, and that’s their food source,” said Horvath.

These researchers from NCCU, N.C. State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences aren’t just sampling people around Raleigh.

They have samples from people in Madagascar, too.

“It’s really interesting to look at a human population where their exposure to things like soil and water and animals. They get a lot more of that sort of exposure than the average American does here today,” said fellow researcher Melissa Manus.

Manus is the assistant director for the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine, which funded the research along with the Comparative Medicine Institute at N.C. State.

Researchers hope one day this information can show us how the smallest pieces of our health puzzle fit together.

If you’d like to contribute your microbes to the study, researchers are holding several more sampling events Thursday and Friday, along with two more in September.

To sign up for a time, you should send an email with your name to In the subject line put “Earwax/Armpit.”

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