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Human skin is teeming with microbescommunities of bacteria, many of which are harmless, live alongside the more infamous microbes sometimes found on the skin. Nina Rountree from North Carolina State University and colleagues set out to dispel the myth that all bacteria on the skin are disease-causing germs. The researchers cultured the bacterial communities living within bellybuttons of 391 individuals from across the U.S. and published photos of the cultures anonymously in the online Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database. They chose bellybuttons as an area of the body that is generally protected from excretions, soaps and ultraviolet ray exposure.
The experiment generated interest among citizen scientists and provided clues about the stability of bacterial communities over time, the significant turnover between participants' bacterial communities and similarities of bacterial communities between family members. The Bellybutton Bacteria Culture database received 55,000 visitors in only three months.
The research, "Beta-diversity of human skin bacteria studied with the citizen science approach," led by Rountree, will be presented on Friday, August 12 during the "Biodiversity" poster session at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting being held August 7-12, 2011 in Austin, Texas.