Bellybutton Bugs

Researchers take pictures and analyze bacterial cultures from the bellybuttons of hundreds of American volunteers.

By | August 4, 2011

Bacterial culture from a bellybuttonFrom wildlifeofyourbody.org

The bellybutton is a comfy hiding space for myriad bacteria seeking shelter from ultraviolet rays, soaps, detergents, sweat and other dangerous body secretions. Nina Rountree, an undergraduate in biogeographer Rob Dunn’s lab at North Carolina State University, led a team of biologists and science communicators that set out to culture the germs making a home in the bellybuttons of 391 individuals from across the United States. They posted images of the bacterial cultures at the project website, Belly Button Diversity, where they advertise you can “meet your personal ecosystem, in color!” Through sequencing, the team is identifying the bacterial species living within the bellybuttons of the volunteers and is currently working on an upcoming paper describing the results. Next Friday (August 12), Rountree will present a poster of the project at the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 96th Annual Meeting.

(Read an excerpt from Rob Dunn’s book The Wild Life of Our Bodies from the June issue of The Scientist.)

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