November 8, 2012

Your belly button is home to a terrible, yawning, richness of life. (Plus lint!)

Sergio Feria
Did you know that the belly button is one of the habitats closest to us, and yet it remains relatively unexplored?

It’s true! That’s why this study about the bacteria that live in belly buttons is so very important. Scientist Rob Dunn wrote about the adventure of research over at Scientific American:
We would culture the bacteria of people’s belly buttons to provide folks with a visual measure of the life on them, a reminder of the mysteries everywhere . . . We were finding hundreds and then thousands of species, many of which appear new to science. They included strange species, such as one species found on my body that appears to prefer to break down pesticides . . . 
As we looked at belly buttons we saw a terrible, yawning, richness of life.  The average belly button hosted 50 or so species and across belly buttons we found thousands of species . . . The vast majority of these species are rare. Right away something struck an ecological chord. The belly buttons reminded me of rain forests. 
One participant self-reported he had not washed in years . . . We would love to sample (albeit with longer swabs) more folks who never wash. Such individuals are probably more representative of the state in which our bodies existed until a few generations ago when it became popular to bathe regularly. In other words, our one bathless participant is closer to being like a king or queen of ole than the rest of us will ever be. Maybe we need to go to Burning Man to find others of the hygienic royalty.
Did you see that? He dissed the belly buttons of the unwashed attendees of Burning Man! *high five*

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