The subways of New York City were swabbed by scientists and what they discovered is disturbing. In addition to some interesting substances like mozzarella cheese and Kimchi rise were more critical things to include staph and Bubonic plague.
As part of a comprehensive new study scientists went looking for a DNA using the subways of New York City as the hunting ground. Referred to as the “PathoMan” project, over 500 species of bacteria were discovered, some of these coming from food. In all, there were 67 known types of bacteria that can make people sick.
However, when the Metropolitan Transit Authority stated that people who ride the subways are not at risk, the lead author of the study agreed. Although there were traces of pathogenic microbes found during the investigation, the presence was so insignificant that there is no risk to human health, this according to Dr. Christopher Mason, assistant professor of computational genomics at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Mason added that even with microbes being present and the last of reported cases of people who ride the subways becoming sick just shows how powerful the body’s immune system is by constantly adapting to the environment.
Dr. Mason also said that it was his own experiences as a parent living in New York City coupled with scientific curiosity that prompted the study. He wanted to know how microbes everyone shares are transmitted. As a father, he rides the subway every day to take his daughter to daycare and it made him wonder how their presence impacted other people on the same subway.
As part of the study, Mason, his research team, and literally dozens of volunteers and students, took swabs for over a year of railings, turnstiles, trashcans, benches, ticket kiosks, and more. In all, 466 subway stations were covered, which included various subway cars, seats, poles, and doors.
At the end of the year, 4,200 samples had been collected with each time stamped using a mobile application and its exact location tagged with GPA. Of the samples, 1,457 were analyzed, which resulted in over 10 billion distinct DNA fragments being identified.
Along with bacteria, Dr. Mason and his team discovered genetic material associated to mice, fish, humans, beetles, flies, and plants. In addition, about 50% of the DNA had not known organism since only genomes of a fraction of the species found in the world have been sequenced.
The new microbe map will be used as a baseline for measuring but also tracking disease outbreak in the Big Apple, to include the horrific Ebola virus seen over the past year. There is also a chance that bioterrorist threats can be identified and averted. While it appears the report is filled with amazing information, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene claims it is highly flawed.
According to the spokesperson, the information is misleading since no alternative to what the team found was provided. For scientific pagers, more plausible explanations of findings are always the best common practice.