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Your Belly Button is Like a Rainforest, and Here’s Why

After decades of exploring the wealth of biodiversity found in some  of the  planet’s remotest ecosystems, from high atop the forest canopy,  to down deep  within the ocean’s murky depths, scientists have now turned  their attention to  one of the darkest, most foreboding places of all —  your belly button!

Sure, that little built-in lint trap might not seem so terribly interesting,  aside from being a battle scar  from the early days of our infantile  independence. But for a team of  researchers, lead by Dr. Robert Dunn, delving  into the human belly  button is actually like visiting a unknown world. And they  should know;  they’ve bravely participated in dozens of harrowing navel  expeditions in  search of new life.

That is to say, they’ve swabbed and cultured  bacteria samples from 60  participants across the U.S. — discovering in  the process more than 2,000  distinct species, some of which are quite  uncommon.

“As we looked at belly buttons we saw a terrible, yawning, richness of life,” writes Dr. Dunn.  “The average belly button hosted 50 or so  species and across belly  buttons we found thousands of species (and as we  sample more belly  buttons, we continue to find more species). The vast majority  of these  species are rare. Right away something struck an ecological chord. The  belly buttons reminded me of rain forests.”

Interestingly enough,  despite the broadness of their sampling, Dunn and his  team found that  the commonest species found were present in around 70 percent  of belly  buttons tested — though no one bacteria was present in all of  them.

“Although  it remains difficult to predict which species of bacteria might be  found on a particular human, predicting which species are most frequent  (or  rare) seems more straightforward, at least for those species living  in belly  buttons,” researchers write in their study, appearing in the  journal PLOS ONE.

What  Dunn and his team failed to uncover, however, was why each person’s   navel seems to be so distinct — conceding: “what we cannot seem to  account for  is which species are present in any particular belly  button.”

But that should come as no surprise; scientists have  really only begun to  poke around the belly button just recently and  there’s certainly far more to  learn.

“The belly button is one of the habitats closest to us, and yet it remains  relatively unexplored.”

Written by Stephen Messenger

This post was originally published by TreeHugger

Photo: unclefuz/flickr

 

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