The Wild Life of Your Body
Project: Belly Button Biodiversity
Project Status: Year Two (First results published, more in the works!)
Participation: Sampling complete, Public discussion & analysis encouraged
Our bodies are a wonderland of microbial species, that until only recently have begun to be explored. We imagine microbes = germs = bad, and yet most are not. In fact, most microbes that call our bodies home are either good for us or simply present, whether in between your toes or up your nose.
Belly buttons seemed like a great place to start – it’s a relatively isolated nook that everyone has but few ever wash; in short, it could be a hotspot for bacterial biodiversity! We set out to know what species call your navel home, what exactly those species do, and how do the microbes in your belly button differ from other people’s.
To date, we’ve collected samples from hundreds of curious volunteers (alas, we are no longer seeking or accepting more samples). Our lab team has been busy plating, sequencing, and identifying the microbes. Admire the beautiful belly button biodiversity we’ve encountered thus far in our gallery of belly button portraits.
In November 2012, we published our first findings from the project in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Read the article (it’s open access) or check out all the great news and blog coverage about our results.
Of course, this first paper offered only an early glimpse of the belly button data (from just the first 60 individuals sampled). There’s no doubt that your belly button is a jungle of microbial diversity. Yet, it is also full of mysteries, mysteries that our team is having a hard time wrapping its head around. For example, what factors — could be environmental, maybe genetic, possibly physical — determines the species of microbes that set up shop in an individual’s belly button?
So while we’re waiting for molecular analysis of the last few hundred belly buttons to wrap up, we invite you to join the discussion, suggest new hypotheses, and maybe even play with our publically available data set.
We want your input because we think that you are, collectively, much smarter than we are.