Clif Hotvedt's picture

Belly Button Biodiversity and Medical Communications

It sounds like quite a stretch to tie these two [[wysiwyg_imageupload:137:]]
together, but why not?

Research reported recently in Genome Technology describes a project at North Carolina State University that seeks to identify all the bacteria living in human belly buttons.  To the obvious question, “why?” the researchers led by Jiri Huler of the Dunn Lab respond that it’s an isolated area that’s hospitable to bacteria and that’s not fastidiously washed.

What they found was that in the first 95 samples cultured, there were 1,400 strains of bacteria, 662 of which couldn’t be classified.   

Often, we’re given stories to convey that are highly technical and difficult to translate as to how they tangibly affect people’s lives.  This on the other hand, is an incredibly approachable story, understandable by virtually anyone and yet it also poses communications challenges – told too simply, this could read like a throw-away punch line on a late-night talk show, and it deserves better than that. 

Aided by writer Christie Rizk, the researchers here were able to tell the bigger story – that there is a veritable “jungle” of diverse bacteria living symbiotically with people that very little is known about.  While a question they hoped to answer was whether there are geographical differences in what bacteria colonize people and what they found was that people harbor unique stable populations of organisms throughout their lives and the reasons why one species might predominate in one individual over another are unknown.