The Value of Art to Science—A story of rotting bodies, belly buttons and the music of symbiosis

In The Man Who Touched His Own Heart I tell the story of the artist Leonardo da Vinci’s discoveries inside bodies. Among the most astonishing of his efforts came late one afternoon in 1508 when…

“[D]a Vinci was at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, a church hospital. He was not a doctor, but he already knew more about the human body than almost anyone else who had ever lived. He was talking with a very old man, a centenarian. The man, who is known to history simply as il vecchio, the old one, was kind and garrulous. He had lived […]

By | June 4th, 2015|Belly Button Biodiversity, Books, Hearts, Science Art, Video|4 Comments

12 Questions from students about the (Wild) Life of Our Bodies

Today we have a special Q & A from Kelly Allen and her East Chapel Hill HS Biology II (Human Biology) students. Each year Allen’s students participate in Biology Book Clubs and this year they read Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Without further ado, questions asked by high school juniors and seniors to Rob Dunn:  

Amanda: Why did humans lose their ability to detect who a person is by their scent, while other primates and mammals still are able to do so?  Since its something needed for survival, I would have thought that our ability to smell would have improved, so […]

By | May 18th, 2015|Belly Button Biodiversity, Q & A, Your Mites|1 Comment

Why We #CitSci

Your Wild Life is relocating to the West Coast this week to participate in the inaugural meeting of the Citizen Science Association in San Jose, California. We’re looking forward to two FUN-FILLED days of building connections and exchanging ideas with 600 other scientists, volunteers, data managers, educators, and science communicators who – like us – are dedicated to engaging the public in scientific research.

Together with our colleagues and collaborators at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, we’ll be sharing insights and lessons learned from many Your Wild Life projects including Belly Button Biodiversity, Wild Life […]

ICYMI: Holiday Break Edition

Happy New Year! Classes are back in swing today here at NC State and we’re slowly but surely digging ourselves out from under the pile of emails that accumulated over the winter break.

A few exciting research developments and stories emerged while we were on our holiday hiatus, and we thought we should dedicate our first post in 2015 to catching you up those items you may have missed:

Navel-gazing Newsflash

A few quick updates on Belly Button Biodiversity and related projects:

  • You can now download and take a gander at the second and final batch of data from Belly Button Biodiversity. The available file contains both taxonomic information (OTU tables) and meta-data self-reported from our last batch of participants. These are the same data we used to generate the interactive pie chart.
By | November 17th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, News, Science Art|0 Comments

Navel-gazing in NYC

We’re headed back to the Big Apple this week – this time, not in search of ants, but BELLY BUTTONS.

We’re launching a new research project investigating how belly button microbes – and skin microbes more generally – produce chemical signals, particularly odors, that may signal our attractiveness to mosquitoes.

And so we need a few good belly button samples. We’ll use those samples to study the composition of microbes, the odors they produce, and their relative attractiveness to mosquitoes (Literally, we’ll present the samples to actual mosquitoes in a snazzy set-up in the lab of our NCSU […]

By | November 3rd, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Events|0 Comments

Belly Button Portraits – An Opportunity to Create Art through Science!

We’d like to think that over the course of the last few years, our Belly Button Biodiversity project has inspired quite a few things.

By | October 20th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Participate, Science Art|0 Comments

The Common Yet Relatively Unknown Bacteria in Your Belly Button

Two weeks ago, we (finally) returned data to participants in the Belly Button Biodiversity project and unveiled some slick, new data visualizations to help participants and any one who’s curious explore the microbial jungle inside our navels.

If you browse the interactive pie charts, you’ll notice that a handful of bacteria are super-common. Some of these bacteria – like Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus — we know a lot about.

Other common belly button bacteria, however, remain understudied and, quite frankly, unknown. In this new chapter in the Invisible Life project, Rob Dunn sketches out the […]

By | June 3rd, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Invisible Life|0 Comments

Time to Explore the Umbilicus: New Belly Button Biodiversity Website

It’s been many moons since 500 or so intrepid citizen scientists twirled a Q-tip in their belly buttons for science.

With that swab we did two things:

We quickly delivered on the portraits. The molecular part… well, our science is SLOW. It took a few years, but we FINALLY finished those analyses.

So today we are proud to share a new and improved Belly Button Biodiversity website, complete with […]

By | May 15th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity|0 Comments

The Future of Discovery

In March 2014, Rob spoke at TEDxSantaCruz, explaining how much we don’t know about the species living on us, in us and around us – the life, large and small, inhabiting our belly buttons, our foreheads, our homes, our backyards.

He shared the approach we’re taking at Your Wild Life (and in our new Students Discover education initiative) to harness the power of the public – via citizen science – to make real discoveries about these species with whom we share our daily lives.

To quote his final thought in the talk, “We can see more together than we can […]

Quiz Time!

Everyone loves a good quiz – even the Buzzfeed variety, you know the kind that you see on Facebook ALL. THE. TIME. The kind of quiz that helps you determine what actor would play you in a movie of your life or what literary couple best represents you and your significant other.

Recently, we’ve seen a couple of quizzes that are not only FUN but, GASP, might provide an opportunity for you to learn something interesting about the biodiversity in your daily life.

Last week, the NY Times Well blog ran a story (written by former post doc and YWL […]

Delayed Gratification, Citizen Science and Why You Might Not Have Received an Email about Your Sample Yet

But, If You Are So Willing, You’ll Receive Emails and Updates for the Next 10 Years. Also, Did I Tell You about the Cats?

I do not have any particular predilection for delayed gratification. I can’t watch YouTube videos because I don’t like not being able to control the pace and see where I am going. I don’t like departmental seminars because almost inevitably one can read the paper faster (and get to the good parts) than one can listen to the talk. Actually, this is too meek of a statement. I actually hate departmental seminars. My wife is patient. My […]

How to turn any dataset into a glowing worm

A few decades ago gene expression, the process by which the code books of genes are turned into proteins, was invisible. It happened in every living thing, but where and when a particular gene was being expressed was a complicated secret nature was reluctant to reveal. Then came Martin Chalfie, who I recently had the great pleasure to meet as part of seminar at North Carolina State University (whereupon he told me this story). Chalfie was studying nematodes, those transparent little worms that dwell in soil, on skin and even in tap water, but are best known for […]

A Hundred Eager Kids: The Fred A. Olds Soap Biodiversity Project

Recently, I started going back to elementary school. The goal was simple; I was going to try to do real science in the classroom. We have a big project with middle schools around the world to do just this, but it seemed as though something could be done in elementary school, too, and the one three blocks from my house seemed a good place to start.

I’ve visited the classroom a few times. When I do, all the third graders in the school are gathered into one classroom. They fidget against each other like a hundred tiny tornadoes.

We started simple. […]

By | January 2nd, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Education|4 Comments