Bellybutton Biomes



The researchers published photos of bacterial communities cultured from the bellybuttons of 391 individuals. Credit: The Ecological Society of America (ESA)

Public awareness about the role and interaction of microbes is essential for promoting human and environmental health, say scientists presenting research at the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 96th Annual Meeting from August 7-12, 2011. Researchers shed light on the healthy microbes of the human body and other research on microbial and disease ecology to be presented at ESA’s 2011 meeting in Austin, Texas.



Human skin is teeming with microbes—communities of bacteria, many of which are harmless, live alongside the more infamous microbes sometimes found on the skin. Nina Rountree from North Carolina State University and colleagues set out to dispel the myth that all bacteria on the skin are disease-causing germs.



The researchers cultured the bacterial communities living within bellybuttons of 391 individuals from across the U.S. and published photos of the cultures anonymously in the online Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database. They chose bellybuttons as an area of the body that is generally protected from excretions, soaps and ultraviolet ray exposure.



The experiment generated interest among citizen scientists and provided clues about the stability of bacterial communities over time, the significant turnover between participants’ bacterial communities and similarities of bacterial communities between family members. The Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database received 55,000 visitors in only three months.



The research entitled “Beta-diversity of human skin bacteria studied with the citizen science approach” led by Nina Rountree from North Carolina State University, was presented Friday, August 12 during the “Biodiversity” poster session.