(NEW YORK) — Researchers have found that more than 2,000 different species of bacteria live in our umbilicus – the medical word for belly button. That means you have more kinds of bacteria in your belly button than there are different kinds of ants or birds in North America, according to the study.
The majority of these bacteria were rare and occurred in just one individual. No single type was common to all 60 belly buttons sampled.
“I don’t find it alarming,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an expert in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “We knew belly buttons weren’t sterile.”
However, Schaffner believes that this does not minimize the study’s findings.
“This is in the context of a much larger study, which is trying to … get greater insight into the source of pathogens and how the [bacteria on our body] changes with antimicrobial therapy and age.”
Perhaps, he said, we can “use this to develop new antimicrobials.”
The benefits may extend beyond antibiotics.
“Understanding the biodiversity of our bodies and how it differs among people may play an important role in understanding why some … people are susceptible to the same pathogen or respond to the same drug or diet,” said Dr. Rob Knight, associate professor of molecular biophysics at the University of Colorado – Boulder.
Although the findings of the study do not have any immediate implications, this is good timing for a public service announcement from Dr. Gregory Poland, infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“The current fad of women piercing their umbilicus has led to many case reports of infections,” Poland said. “And with today’s multiple drug-resistant bacteria, it can lead to disasters.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
Sam Penrod, KSL.com