Nearly five million commuters in New York are moving with hundreds of uninvited guests in the subway system that are too small to see with naked eyes.
The tiny, unseen organisms are lurking in the train stations, according to a team of scientists which collected cotton-swab samples from things like MetroCard kiosks, benches, emergency exits, turnstiles, hand rails and trash cans in all the 468 stations that constitute the sprawling subway system New York City.
This subway system provides 1.7 billion rides every year to the New Yorkers.
The researchers came across some of the unusual findings, ranging from traces of pathogens such as the anthrax and plague to marine microbes believed to be native to Antarctica, and bacteria from mozzarella cheese.
The strange findings may leave many New Yorkers unnerved when they will come to know that they are riding among hundreds of miniscule species.
Even though the study has brought a strange revelation about the strange species, the scientists claimed that there’s no need to worry or start taking precautionary measure, such as wearing gloves, in the public.
The report showed that most of the 637 known DNA samples of bacteria, fungus, virus and animals collected by the scientists belong to the organisms that don’t cause any disease and are found lying on the body of humans anyway.
Christopher Mason, an assistant professor at New York-based Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a statement, “Our data show evidence that most bacteria in these densely populated, highly trafficked transit areas are neutral to human health, and much of it is commonly found on the skin or in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria.”
Some of the major findings of the in-depth study include:
- 9 percent bacteria were found in the subway system.
- Bacteria were the most common organisms found there.
- Nearly 57 percent of the detected bacteria were never been associated with any human disease.
- Another 31 percent of the bacteria were placed under the opportunistic pathogens category. Researchers found that this category of bacteria holds the potential to infect people with weak immune systems.
- The rest 12 percent bacteria had some relation with disease like antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The researchers found this type of bacteria present in 27 percent of the study samples. While three samples had DNA traces of bubonic plague, two samples had a DNA molecule associated with anthrax. However, these organisms were not associated with any recent disease outbreak.
- The South Ferry Station, which was totally submerged in seawater during the 2012 Superstorm Sandy, recorded another major discovery. According to the researchers, the bacterial profile of the subway station still resembles a cold marine ecosystem almost two years after the disaster. The station shows traces of bacteria like Shewanella frigidimarina, which is associated with fish and was earlier assumed to be an Antarctic species, associated with fish and Pseudoalteromonas haloplanktis, commonly found in oysters.
“These bacteria are instead likely just the co-habitants of any shared urban infrastructure and city, but wider testing is needed to determine how common this is in other cities. Despite finding traces of pathogenic microbes, their presence isn’t substantial enough to pose a threat to human health,” Mason said.
According to the researchers, identification of half of the collected DNA were not possible as these sequences failed to match any organism named by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The findings of the study were detailed this week in the journal Cell Systems.