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Drug resistant bacteria lurking in New York subways

The rats are not the only problem beneath the streets of New York City. It seems that the subway stations, naturally populated by bacteria, contain a large number of organisms that are resistant to leading antibiotics.

The presence of these bacteria was confirmed after samples were collected from five stations throughout the city. This was part of a new initiative to profile the city’s microbial community. The project is dubbed Pathomap. a number of the samples that form part of the project have been collected, using swabs, by high school students. in fact, the detection of the concerning antibiotic resistant bacteria was made by Anya Dunaif, a participant in Rockefeller’s Summer Science Research Program.

PathoMap is a research project by Weill Cornell Medical College to study the microbiome and metagenome of the built environment of New York City.

The results took on more importance when it was discovered that a high proportion of the isolates were resistant to two common antibiotics: ampicillin and kanamycin (both classes of beta-lactam antibiotics).

The findings are important because the growing menace of antibiotic resistance is, arguably, the single biggest threat faced by the world’s population. The findings suggest that such microbes have spread into the community and, given the locations, this increases the potential to spread further. As the author’s state: “This baseline metagenomic map of NYC could help long-term disease surveillance, bioterrorism threat mitigation, and health management in the built environment of cities.”

The Pathomap project has also produced other information of interest. Sampling has detected fragments of DNA that are associated with specific disease like plague and anthrax.

The new findings have been published in the journal Cell Systems. The research is titled “Geospatial Resolution of Human and Bacterial Diversity with City-Scale Metagenomic.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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