Gazing into the navel, scientists find a diverse ecosystem of bacteria


Micrococcus bacteria can be colorful. They are unlikely to do well too deep inside a belly button, but on the surface as elsewhere on our skin, they thrive. (Belly Button Biodiversity)

If you were told you had an ecosystem living in your belly button, it might come as a bit of shock. The Belly Button Biodiversity project has set out to catalog just what’s living inside the navel. The project, overseen by scientists from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, has taken a sampling of belly button swabs from themselves as well as students, science bloggers and others.

The BBB scientists want to strike down the “bad bacteria” stereotype and teach the world that many bacteria are harmless, helpful and often just hanging around, mooching off your body. The navel is an ideal place for bacteria to thrive because it’s isolated and most people don’t bother to wash it.

One question the BBB group has asked is: Do the bacteria differ from person to person?

The scientists grew the bacteria from hundreds of swab samples and found that most people’s belly button ecosystems are unique. They found 2,368 types of bacteria, with 2,188 present on fewer than 10 percent of the samples.

 Several of BBB’s samples are posted on the Web site www.wildlifeofyourbody.org. They include a bacillus that produces antibiotic compounds that can kill other bacteria as well as foot fungi, and a type of clostridial bacterium. The latter’s diverse family includes botulism and gangrene bacteria, along with many harmless bugs.

New Scientist

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