Have you ever wondered about the tiny ecosystem that lives in your bellybutton, untouched by soap, water, light, and air? So did the scientists who spearheaded North Carolina State's Belly Button Biodiversity project. According to the Charlotte Observer:
The idea germinated from exploring the "bellybuttons" of tiny bark beetles.
"We've been identifying the creatures living inside 'bellybuttons' of tiny beetles that live inside the bark of trees," said project leader Jiri Hulcr. "Because of this work, we had the technology to do it, so we sampled the buttons of everybody in our lab to make a holiday postcard."
Andrea Lucky, a collaborator on the project, brings her research background in tropical rainforests and ants to the project.
"These tropical ants are like our bellybutton microbes in that they are lovely, interesting and are living in this particular area," Lucky said.
Hulcr said he chose to sample bellybuttons because each one is a relatively protected area filled with minute crannies that often go unwashed and can support a profusion of life forms. Unlike our body's other protected areas (think nose and ears), which secrete oils or waxes that can alter the life inside, the human bellybutton lacks an abundance of special secretions.
Observing the navel biota of the lab members, Hulcr and Lucky noticed curious differences between navels. Some were barren in terms of inhabiting organisms while others were, well, full of life.
Hulcr and his team have taken over 500 samples of bellybutton life from people at various museum events. They hope to study them to find out what the normal ecosystem of microbial life would be on our skin, if we didn't shower like maniacs all the time and kill the tiny creatures who live harmlessly on our bodies.
Find out more via Charlotte Observer