The study showed that there are more than 5.5 million people riding the subway weekly, and with them, hundreds of species of bacteria, mostly unidentified ones.
According to the researchers involved in the study, approximately half of the DNA data collected from the subway’s surfaces did not match any of the known microbes or bacteria, and about 0.2% of the DNA matched the human genome.
Christopher E. Mason, one of the lead authors of the study and a professor of genetics at the Weill Cornell Medical College, said that most people who are riding the subway do not think of its surfaces as “teeming with life”. But the latest study might make a lot of people reconsider. Professor Mason wants people to look at the subway system as being a rain forest, where a plethora of species dwell.
Professor Mason explained that his recent study was inspired by an incident involving his daughter, when he dropped her off at a day care. He said that he observed her how she explored her surroundings by putting objects into her mouth.
This incident made Dr. Mason wonder how many bacteria are being transferred this way. This is how he got the idea to study an environment where people are very close to each other and in a very large number. The first thing that came into his mind was the subway.
He then began working on his study, which he calls PathoMap.
Dr. Mason and his team of medical students have worked on the project for more than 17 months. They first started to collect DNA samples using nylon swabs from various subway surfaces, such as benches, seats, doors, turnstiles and poles.
The study revealed that there are hundreds of unknown species of microbes and bacteria, and the Bronx was the most diverse space for this.
According to the results, Brooklyn was second, followed by Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, with samples collected from Staten Island Railway.
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