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Bellybutton bacteria

Fair warning to germaphobes: This story might cause spontaneous itchiness or an immediate desire for hand sanitizer. Still with us? Read on, brave soul.

Human skin and hair are the preferred habitat for hordes of bacteria. There could be thousands of species camped right now on your arms and legs, nestled in your armpits and scrunched between your toes.

These are things we understand. But there is a lot we don’t. “The reality is we know incredibly little about these species,” said Rob Dunn, a North Carolina State University biologist. “It’s a kind of garden that lives on people, but we don’t know what we’re planting.”

Dunn leads a project that seeks to change the way we think about the microscopic creatures that live closer to us than our loved ones. ] He and his colleagues went searching for new species of microbes. But they didn’t have to travel to some strange, exotic rainforest or deepwater vent. ] In fact, they didn’t have to go any farther than their bellybuttons.

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