Your Belly Button May Be Home to Unknown Species

biodiverse belly button photo
Photo: hweiling / cc

If you've ever wanted to go venturing into some uncharted cave in search of exotic species yet unknown to science, then please extend your index finger and place it into your belly button. Done? Okay, now welcome to the habitat of potentially some 1,400 bacterial strains -- hundreds of which may be unidentified. According to biologists from the Belly Button Biodiversity project, human navels are home to an astonishing number of new microbes. and it may be because it's a place where researchers never really thought to check.

(Oh, you can take your finger out now; you're disturbing the masses.)"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," reads the Belly Button Biodiversity project web site -- and they should know. Over the course of several months, researchers have undertaken a navel expedition of sorts, swabbing the belly buttons of hundreds of volunteers to see what they could find inside.

After performing the first in a series of DNA analyses on microbes collected, as many as 662 cases appear to be "new to science," says lead researcher, Jiri Hulcr.

But more than just shedding light on a natural habitat in your body upon which light is not often shed, the surprising findings are indicating that we could have much to learn in terms of microbial biodiversity. In other words, science's understanding of microbes may just be at the tip of our fleshy, proverbial icebergs.

From the Washington Post:

The results reflect our ignorance of microbial diversity, Hulcr suggests: The inhabitants of our navels seem weird because biologists haven't sampled extensively enough to document the full diversity of microbial life in a variety of habitats. He likens the reactions to the first round of belly button results to the astonishment of the first European explorers seeing African big game, which today seem commonplace. "Now you're expecting rhino and elephants," Hulcr says.

Contemplating the fact that our navels are home to so many organisms, let alone undiscovered ones, is no less than mind-boggling. Our scientific pursuit of new species has led researchers from the depths of the ocean high into the cosmos -- but who could have guessed what we'd find when we took a closer look at ourselves?

Only John Mayer, perhaps.

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