JUN 28, 2016 11:58 AM PDT

Subway microbes help predict disease

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health just published a detailed survey of Boston’s subway-dwelling microbes.

Why, you ask? The idea is that knowing which microbes share our public spaces could help predict outbreaks of disease. According to study author Curtis Huttenhower, these results “establish a baseline against which deviations can be used as an early warning system to monitor public health”.

The group collected samples from a wide variety of surfaces at five Boston subway stations - seats, walls, hand rails, hanging grips, and ticket machine touchscreens. The researchers then used metagenomic sequencing technology to analyze the samples.
 
A new survey identified subway-dwelling microbes.
They found that the way we humans interact with a surface determined what type of microbe inhabited it (not surprising, really). For example, microbes commonly found on the skin were found on frequently-touched surfaces such as hand rails and touch screens, and vaginal microbes (often transferred via clothing) were found on seats.

The group also found plant-associated microbes on touchscreens and other outdoor surfaces (not because plants ride the subway).

What was most surprising to the authors, however, was the fact that they found so few pathogenic microbes. With so many people in such close contact, they expected the subway to be a hotbed of disease activity (ok, maybe a little extreme).

According to Huttenhower, “we were surprised to find that the microbes that we collected on surfaces that people touch—and sometimes sneeze on—had low numbers of worrisome pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes. These environments have drastically lower virulence profiles, in fact, than are observed in a typical human gut.”

What’s next for the project? The group wants to determine which of these microbes are actually alive (and thriving?!) in the subway. This information will help them understand which microbes could be transferred to unsuspecting commuters.
 


Source: Phys.org, mSystems
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
MAR 18, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 18, 2020
The Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is Stable for Hours on Surfaces
SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that causes an illness called COVID-19. There are now well over 210,000 confirmed cases worl ...
MAR 31, 2020
Microbiology
MAR 31, 2020
Researchers Suggest Repurposing Pancreatitis Drug to Treat COVID-19
As SARS-CoV-2 upends normalcy in the world, researchers are trying to find a treatment for the illness it causes.
APR 21, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
APR 21, 2020
New Diagnostic FET-based Biosensor Enables Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to be at the forefront of the World’s attention. COVID- ...
APR 22, 2020
Cardiology
APR 22, 2020
COVID-19 Connected to an Increase Occurrence of Blood Clots
COVID-19 linked to cardiac issues  
MAY 06, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 06, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 Can Infect Intestinal Cells
Once thought to cause symptoms that primarily affect the respiratory system, there has been evidence that the virus can ...
MAY 26, 2020
Microbiology
MAY 26, 2020
Rabbits in North America are Threatened by a Deadly Virus
A deadly virus has been spreading among the wild rabbit populations of the southwestern United States. This devastating ...
Loading Comments...