Going Deep: Help us explain the mysteries of the belly button
Two years ago, we started navel-gazing in earnest. We recruited over 500 of you to twirl a cotton swab in your belly button for the sake of scientific discovery.
We recently published the findings from our first set of analyses, looking at 60 belly buttons sampled at two events early in our project. Belly buttons, it turns out, contain a veritable jungle of microbes – we detected over 2300 species, some completely new to science!
One of the most interesting results from this paper was the notion that the most frequently encountered species in the first two samples of belly buttons were predictably common (note, we’re talking about just 8 out of 2300+ total species detected). Based on these findings, we think we could walk into a bar and be able to successfully predict the handful of species that were most likely to be encountered in the room (sounds like a fun party trick to us…). And yet, a great mystery remains: we cannot for the life of us (yet) predict what species we’ll most likely encounter on an individual.
Our dataset has grown and we now have species information from about 150 belly buttons. And more data will be added soon. Plus we have data that individuals shared about their bathing habits, where they grew up, presence of pets, innies v. outies, and even measurements from land cover data for things like impervious surface (a surrogate for urbanization).
And so, we’ve created this online play-space for you to get involved and help explain the mysteries of the belly button:
1) What do YOU think determines an individual’s belly button biodiversity?
Participate in the discussion. Share your hypotheses. Should we dive deeper into some other factors not measured? Comment and offer your thoughts about those ideas posted by your fellow citizen scientists.
2) Get your hands dirty and PLAY with the data.
Partake in some good old-fashioned data analysis. In the downloadable Excel file, you’ll find data associated with each person in the study (except their names and other identifiers) along with the data on the species (technically called OTUs, or operational taxonomic units based just on the genes of the critters we find) found in their belly buttons.
We want your input because we think that you are, collectively, much smarter than we are. We can’t wait to learn what you find out!