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
OCT 18, 2019
Microbiology
OCT 18, 2019
Artificial Mother-of-pearl, Made by Bacteria
Mother Nature has produced some very durable, tough materials, and some of the best synthetic materials are based on natural products....
OCT 18, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 18, 2019
Does Diet Shape Our Microbiome More than Genetics?
Recent findings from mouse studies have concluded that genetics may have a more important role than environmental factors in the composition of the microbi...
OCT 18, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 18, 2019
The Rise of Drug Resistance Among Malaria Parasites
Around 220 million people get malaria every year after being bitten by a mosquito infected with the parasite that causes the disease....
OCT 18, 2019
Microbiology
OCT 18, 2019
Picturing a New Kind of Antibiotic
Scientists have deciphered the X-ray crystal structure of an enzyme that generates a unique broad spectrum antibiotic called obafluorin....
OCT 18, 2019
Earth & The Environment
OCT 18, 2019
The methane-eating microorganisms in the ocean
New research published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography reveals part of the mystery behind a one million square kilometer patch of ocean in the Pa...
OCT 18, 2019
Immunology
OCT 18, 2019
This is How Your Immune System Responds to Ebola Vaccination
Vaccines to prevent Ebola are still in their infancy, with experimental-only versions being used only in the most dire of instances. In a new study, scient...
Loading Comments...