The ultimate case of TMI: Behold my bellybutton's microbiome

By Carl Zimmer | January 25, 2011 9:00 am

Why is ScienceOnline a meeting like no other? Because it’s the sort of meeting where a biologist named Rob Dunn can set up shop in the lobby to ask for samples of bellybutton shmutz that he can analyze for biological diversity. Not only is it a place where such a person will not be hustled out by security, but it’s a place where a whole bunch of people respond by grabbing Q-tips to do their part for science. And you can bet every last bit of your bellybutton lint that I was right up near the front of the line.

Ten days later, my sample is now thriving nicely on a Petri dish, awaiting a more detailed analysis of its DNA. And here are the rest of the samples from the meeting.

All I can say is, #974, what is going on in there?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Microcosm: The Book

Comments (10)

  1. What does it say about me that I am devastated that I couldn’t be there on the day they were testing bellybuttons?

  2. yikes…so why that? you know it is lint from your clothes and dead skin???? or do you?

    [CZ: I removed the lint before sampling–so these are regular resident of my skin.]

  3. I have a *sneaky* suspicion that #974 might be that guy who hasn’t bathed in EIGHT years! Did you talk to him?! Er, interesting.

    You and readers might be interested in the chat I had with 2 from Rob Dunn’s Belly Button Biodiversity team, Drs. Jiri Hulcr and Andrea Lucky, on our latest Science Cabaret on Air podcast:

    Thanks for sharing your microbes! It’s fun to compare!

  4. I think the next Carnal Carnival has to be people all blogging about their belly button lint.

  5. John Emerson

    We all contain multitudes.

  6. #974 has gone public, at least indirectly (compare with the samples at Maybe spending all that time up in the tropical canopy has something to do with it.

    But I’m jealous — my sample doesn’t seem to be ready yet.

  7. David Dobbs

    Its true, he did it. Actually, I helped Carl with this procedure — a bit of assistance in the men’s room, probably best spare you the linty details — and trust he’ll list me among the authors when the paper comes out.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


See More

Collapse bottom bar