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Hair Tells Tale of Where You've Been
Date:2/25/2008

d to the more familiar concept of "soft" or "hard" water.

Due to variations in geography, water is heavier in some parts of the world than others, Ehleringer said. According to him, it's now possible to differentiate water that comes from different places.

The technique can't pinpoint an exact city or town, but can say whether water came from a kind of place, such as a coastal region, he said. "For instance, if you were to give me bottled water from Sacramento, California, and Denver, Colorado, I could easily tell them apart," using the technology, he said. "But I might not be able to tell apart something from Sacramento, California, versus Fresno, California. That might be too close a region."

And what about people who only drink bottled water that may come from far away? Unless they boil their potatoes and make their coffee and bottle their beer in the water, local water will still show up in their bodies, Ehleringer said.

The cost of the test is about $100, said Ehleringer, who works for a company promoting the technology.

According to the researchers, the technology could be used in medicine. Hair might indicate that someone such as a diabetic -- drinks a lot of water or could offer clues to someone's diet.

Law enforcement is already using the technology. In Utah, homicide detectives tested the hair of an unidentified murder victim and discovered that she probably moved around the Northwest in the two years before she died.

Next, the scientists are planning to figure out where she grew up by testing the water in her teeth. "I think you'll see this technology have an impact on (identifying) unidentified victims from around the country," said Todd Park, a Salt Lake County sheriff's homicide detective. "The more specific information I can get about my victim, the better the odds will be for me to find out who she is."

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