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Belly button biomes begin to blossom

The human navel should be designated as a bacterial nature reserve, it seems. The first round of DNA results from the Belly Button Biodiversity project are in, and the 95 samples that have so far been analysed have turned up a whopping total of more than 1400 bacterial strains. In 662 cases, the microbes could not even be classified to family, "which strongly suggests that they are new to science", says team leader Jiri Hulcr of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The project was conceived as a light-hearted exercise in science communication, but is making a serious contribution to the understanding of microbial diversity. Since New Scientist wrote about the initiative in April, samples of bacteria taken when volunteers swabbed their navels with Q-tips have had their "DNA barcodes" read by sequencing the gene for 16S ribosomal RNA, widely used in studies of bacterial evolutionary relationships.

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