Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New York Subway Home to Bubonic Plague and Anthrax

By Magdeline Lum

Traces of DNA sampled across New York’s subway have revealed a trail of anthrax, bubonic plague and drug-resistant microbes.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

An extensive survey of the traces of DNA left behind by New Yorkers include a trail of anthrax, drug-resistant microbes, cheese and sausage throughout the network of the New York City subway.

Humans are home to a diverse variety of bacteria. The average person is home to approximately 100 trillion microbial cells. This outnumbers human cells by a ratio of 10:1. They make up 36% of active molecules in the human bloodstream, and some life processes we take for granted would not happen without them. We need the bacteria as much as they need us to live.

As people move throughout a city, 1.5 million microscopic skin cells are left behind each hour. Each city contains a rich collection of microbial population that is as unique as its population. Like a rainforest or reef system made of smaller unique areas of life, so are the collections of bacteria in smaller unique areas of the cities like train stations.

Very little is known about the ecology of microbes in urban environments. However, the PathoMap Project led by geneticist Christopher Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College has now sampled surfaces across 466 open stations throughout New York. Surfaces swabbed included kiosks, benches, tunstiles, garbage cans and railings over an 18-month period. More than 10 billion fragments of DNA was collected, and the data was analysed by a supercomputer containing a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.