Houston Area Pediatric Specialists

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

What lives in the New York Subway System? Let's map the DNA!

Very very interesting...

Anthrax and bubonic plague? I am not surprised.

But, undiscovered life? Maybe "Men in Black" Fiction-ish. 

 My favorite quotes: 

1) We have no idea what some of these microbes are.  Undiscovered Species?  " The New York subway study quickly hit the current limits of science. Most microbes have never been isolated or studied. Only a few thousand creatures of any sort have ever had their entire set of genes analyzed, so identifications of DNA sequences through online computer comparisons can be inaccurate."

2) Let's share lunch....The scientists detected DNA from bacteria associated with the production of mozzarella cheese at 151 stations. DNA from chickpeas, a key ingredient in hummus and falafel, was detected on many subway platforms and benches.

Big Data and Bacteria: Mapping the New York Subway’s DNA

Scientists in 18-Month Project Gather DNA Throughout Transit System to Identify Germs, Study Urban Microbiology

Aboard a No. 6 local train in Manhattan, Weill Cornell researcher Christopher Mason patiently rubbed a nylon swab back and forth along a metal handrail, collecting DNA in an effort to identify the bacteria in the New York City subway.

In 18 months of scouring the entire system, he has found germs that can cause bubonic plague uptown, meningitis in midtown, stomach trouble in the financial district and antibiotic-resistant infections throughout the boroughs.

Frequently, he and his team also found bacteria that keep the city livable, by sopping up hazardous chemicals or digesting toxic waste. They could even track the trail of bacteria created by the city’s taste for pizza—identifying microbes associated with cheese and sausage at scores of subway stops.
The big-data project, the first genetic profile of a metropolitan transit system, is in many ways “a mirror of the people themselves who ride the subway,” said Dr. Mason, a geneticist at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

It is also a revealing glimpse into the future of public health.

Across the country, researchers are combining microbiology, genomics and population genetics on a massive scale to identify the micro-organisms in the buildings and confined spaces of entire cities.

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