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New York subway infested by deadly bacteria and mystery DNA

By Stephen Morgan     Feb 6, 2015 in Lifestyle
New York - Researchers have found that the New York City subway system infested with dangerous microorganisms and bacteria, some potentially deadly to human beings.
Weill Cornell Medical College is reporting that Dr. Christopher E. Mason, an assistant professor in Weill Cornell's Department of Physiology and Biophysics and the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Institute for Computational Biomedicine (ICB) have put together a "Pathogen map" of the New York subway covering some 466 stations over a period of 18 months. The results have just been published in the scientific journal, Cell Systems.
15,152 types of the microorganisms were discovered. According to the Mail Online, the researchers swabbed turnstiles, ticket kiosks, railings, benches and trash cans and then used a super computer to study more than 10 billion biomedical fragments. While most of the bacteria that the researchers found are harmless, they also discovered a significant number of microbes which could be lethal for travellers.
Time magazine reports that the life forms they found ranged from rats and other rodents to microorganisms and bacteria, many of which could cause ailments such as food poisoning, urinary-tract infections, respiratory illnesses and heart valve infections.
In total some 67 disease causing bacteria were identified. These included those responsible for dysentery and meningitis, as well as deadly viruses and bacteria like the bubonic plague and Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax, a toxic disease spread by spores, often on peoples clothing and shoes. Another worrying discovery was that 27% of the samples were antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The NYT reported that "The Bronx was found to be the most diverse borough in terms of microbial species. Brooklyn claimed second place, followed by Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island."
However, most of the bacteria were harmless and can be fought off by healthy people's immune systems. The scientists said that there was nothing to panic about for the daily 5.5 million users of the subway. The New York Times quotes Dr Mason, who said, "I want them to think of it the same way you’d look at a rain forest, and be almost in awe and wonder, effectively, that there are all these species present — and that you’ve been healthy all along.” 67% of the bacteria found posed no danger and the plague and anthrax bacteria were deemed to be dead and non-harmful.
Weill Cornell Medical College stated that "of the known bacteria, the majority (57 percent) found on the surfaces of the subway have never been associated with human disease, whereas about 31 percent represented opportunistic bacteria that might pose health risks for immune-compromised, injured or disease-susceptible populations. The remaining 12 percent have some evidence of pathogenicity."
Mason said that the inspiration for the research came after he watched his daughter and other children in daycare transferring microbes and bacteria between each other by putting objects from the floor into their mouths. He asked himself how much was also being transferred between people who are in close proximity in somewhere like the subway.
However, what is also a major mystery is that about half of the DNA they found didn't match any known life forms. One of the leaders of the project, Ebrahim Afshinnekoo, said this finding "underscores the vast wealth of unknown species that are ubiquitous in urban areas."
Weill Cornell says the study is supported by the National Institutes of Health (F31GM111053), the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center, the Pinkerton Foundation, the Vallee Foundation, the WorldQuant Foundation, the Epigenomics Core Facility at Weill Cornell, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Illumina, Qiagen, and Indiegogo (for crowdfunding and crowdsourcing support).
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