How Climate May Have Changed Our Noses

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How Climate May Have Changed Our Noses

Don’t like your nose? You can blame the weather. Kinda. Researchers have found a correlation between one aspect of nose shape and climate, according to a study published Thursday in PLOS Genetics. The New York Times explains that in addition to helping people smell, noses warm and moisten air before it hits the lungs. “Cold and dry air is not good for our internal airways,” researcher Arslan Zaidi tells the Guardian. That’s why scientists have long suspected that noses across the world were shaped by their local climates. Previously that hypothesis had only been supported through skull measurements, according to a press release. But Zaidi and his team used 3D modeling to measure seven nose traits of 476 living volunteers from West Africa, East Asia, Northern Europe, and South Asia.

Researchers found that nostril width was the only nose measurement that differed across regions more than would be accounted for by random genetic mutation. Wider nostrils were found in people from humid, warm places; narrower nostrils were found in cold, dry climates. The biggest difference was found in Northern Europeans, meaning narrow nostrils seem to improve the ability to heat and humidify the air. And while the study showed natural selection played a part in nostril width, climate isn’t necessarily the only explanation. Zaidi and his team admit the types of noses seen as sexy by different cultures may also play a part. As always, more research is needed.

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