Robert Krulwich is a science expert who recently discussed belly buttons with a man named Adam Cole.
Adam: Belly buttons are "safe havens" for bacteria — they're protected from sun and water and unpleasant excretions. Because no matter what people claim, belly buttons don't get washed too often.
Robert: So did they find something important?
Adam: Oh, yeah. They found around 1,400 types of bacteria, more than 600 of which were unknown to science — they were completely new, unclassified organisms!
Robert: All from belly buttons? Why do they look so different?
Adam: Because they are different. As I said, belly button bacteria are personal. My guys, from babyhood on, have been different from your guys. Hulcr calls these "microbial signatures." We might share a couple of common types, but the combination of bacteria belongs particularly to us.
Adam: Well, I think that's the coolest part. We are born without any bacteria on our skin, but as soon as we are exposed to the world we start to accumulate microbes. The places we go, the things we eat, the people we interact with — they all affect our "microbial signature." Our belly buttons — or really, the bacteria they contain — are reflections of our lives.
Robert: But what would happen if I go in there with soap and a washcloth and get rid of mine?
Adam: You'll have trouble cleaning them all off — they're too much a part of your skin. When Hulcr resampled some belly buttons after a couple months and dozens of showers, their bacteria — the same bacteria from before — were still growing happily. You can't get rid of them. And you shouldn't want to.
Robert: Why not?
Adam: Well, they clean up after you, gobbling up sweat and dead skin. They even compete with each other to keep you clean.
Want to learn more? (I know I do!) Go to the website and keep going!
Last Thing: OtisDog has a joke: Did you hear about the guy born with two bellybuttons? He kept one and gave the other to the navel reserve.
Top photo by Sergio Feria,
petri dishes from NPR,
grazie to Dr. Michael Milone for the link!