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Sat Jul 04 03:41:16 SAST 2015

Six bacterial 'oligarchs' rule the belly button jungle: study

Times LIVE | 28 November, 2012 13:22

A research project that has collected samples from across North America has found that six taxa dominate the belly button.

The researchers found that there were about 2368 phylotypes of bacteria in the sixty individuals whose belly button swabs they examined, according to their research published in PloS One.

"Citizens participated in this study not only in sampling but also in hypothesis generation (via twitter and online comments) and data visualisation and were provided with images of bacterial cultures of their samples and lists of the phylotypes discovered during molecular work," the researchers wrote.

A phylotype is basically a way of classifying an organism based on its evolutionary relationship with others, so there were probably more species than that.

However six taxa (a group taxonomists judge to be one unit) appeared to be the most prominent of the bacteria, even as they weren't common to all the belly buttons that were swabbed.

"In studies of tropical forests, the species found to be both predictably frequent and abundant where present have been termed oligarchs, a term we also use here, or “core species” a term used elsewhere in the ecological literature. Such oligarchs were represented by multiple reads in most sampled human individuals, yet not a single one of the oligarchs is present in all samples," the researchers wrote.

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