Ever wondered what microorganisms live on you?
You are alive, but just how alive? We know that species live under our beds or in our backyards. But how many living organisms are on a square centimeter of your skin? What do they do, and how they differ from those of your neighbor? Very little is known about the life that breathes all over us. Each person’s microbial jungle is so rich, colorful, and dynamic that in all likelihood your body hosts species that no scientist has ever studied. Your navel may well be one of the last biological frontiers. It is time then, to explore.
Sampling the nation for Belly Button Bacteria
We are a group of biologists and science communicators from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and we want to know what lives on us. But this project is as much about teaching as it is about learning. We imagine germs as bad, and yet most are not. Most are either good or simply present, whether in between your toes or up your nose. The diversity on our bodies is, like any biological diversity, fascinating and full of awe and we want to share the joy of discovering it, one body part at a time. You give us a sample, we will grow and identify the bacteria, and you get the results. Meet your personal ecosystem, in color! With time we will not only grow the microbes off of your parts, we will sequence them, to know the easy to cultivate species but also all the rest. The life on us knows no celebrity, or rather it knows them as well as it knows the rest of us. Lady Gaga may live the wild life, but she also hosts it.
Why begin with the belly button?
Because no one volunteers when we ask for armpit samples. Because our belly buttons are relatively isolated, a place where microbes are safe. Because everybody has one, its what once connected us to our past. Yet, we barely notice it in our daily lives, to the point that few people actually wash theirs. Which is great for the bacteria! They are well protected, and provide a refuge of our wild nature. We can ask many questions about the microbes on our bodies (what controls which live where, whether the species on men and women are different, whether innies and outies sport different fancies, etc…) but a first step is to simply see who is there, the way the first explorers, upon arriving at new continents, simply wrote home to describe what they found.
So far, so bountiful
Your body’s life is beautiful. Browse through our collection of bodily life, or, if you have already been sampled, find your own sample here. Samples shown in our collection came from the first few sampling events: the ScienceOnline 2011 convention (see microbes that grow on our favorite science writers), the Darwin Day at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and various others.