Sunday, 10 July 2011

Human belly button harbours 1,400 bug strains

Human belly button harbours 1,400 bug strains

Scientists have stumbled on 1,400 strains of bacteria lurking in the much overlooked part of our anatomy - the navel.

North Carolina State University's Belly Button Biodiversity study found 662 unrecognised strains - which could be a unique new species.

Researchers made their startling discovery after they asked 95 volunteers to permit microbiologists to take navel swabs.

Although researchers found some 1,400 strains, 80 percent were identified as 40 fairly common species of bacteria - mainly harmless skin dwellers, the Daily Mail reports.

But the amount of belly button bacteria present on volunteers varied depending on how well they scrubbed their navels.

New Scientist journalist Peter Aldhous washes regularly and, as a result, no bacterial colonies were found in his belly button. But fellow science writer Carl Zimmer, was hosting at least 53 different species, some of which had some surprising provenance.

After he got his results, he wrote: "Several species I've got, such as Marimonas, have only been found in the ocean before. I am particularly baffled that I carry a species called Georgenia. Before me, scientists had only found it living in the soil in Japan."

The team asked volunteers to place long cotton swabs in their navels and twist them around three times. They then placed the swabs in bottles and grew the bacteria in cultures.

Once the cultures grew big enough, they were photographed and their DNA was extracted for comparison to known bacteria.

The team behind the project explained the reasoning behind researching the belly button on their website.

They said they wanted to investigate navels because "everybody has one, it's 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 added.

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