This goes far deeper than mere belly button lint. We're talking the bacteria that lives and grows in the tiny folds of skin most that people are incapable of inspecting without severe discomfort. And researchers from North Carolina are actually getting paid to collect it, research it, and post pictures of it on line. That's some gig!
"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, says the Belly Button Biodiversity Project's official website ... 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."
They say they're using the belly button because no one volunteers when they ask for armpit samples. "Your navel may well be one of the last biological frontiers. It is time then, to explore," according to the website. "Our belly buttons are relatively isolated, a place where microbes are safe. Because everybody has one, it's what once connected us to our past."
The researchers asked participants to swab their own belly buttons at various science events, like the Science Online 2011 convention. They've posted anonymous pictures of those online, but they've clearly marked and identified their own belly button bacteria samples, and posted those as well.
We're not sure how this research is going to look on their resumes eventually, but in the meantime, it's probably wreaking havoc on their social lives.
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