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The Power of Two

Prime Real Estate

Published March 18, 2014 11:27 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Could it be that particular microbes are prone to inhabit unique geographical niches? Just recently, research scientists have come to this conclusion that certain microbe prefer to live in chosen areas across major metropolitan urban sites. For example, scientists have began mapping and swabbing the bacterial microbiome in large metropolitan states such as New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Chris Mason, a genomicist of Weill Cornell Medical College, began exploring the bacterial microbiome of New York City, when a light bulb of an idea ignited from his encounter at his child's day center. He deduced that an urban day-care filled with toddlers carrying loads of microbes, and then the urban city itself must be a virtual microbial storehouse. Day-care microbial studies were already being conducted by researchers at Drexel University and Brooklyn College, so Mason decided to investigate on a larger scale -- the entire city.

The genomicist delegated the task of collecting more than 1,400 samples to a group of five New York City undergraduate students. They gathered samples from close to 500 urban subway stations. The students swabbed turnstiles and trains at all of the stations on a daily basis for close to 2 months. They even used their smart phones to snap photos at the locations.

Mason and his colleagues found clear evidence of diverse microbial life in each of New York's subway stations. In fact, many of the subway stations had their own unique profile of infectious bacterial (i.e. Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus) communities.

Plans are to extend the research to include taxis, airports and other public locations. It is said that this ingenious idea of categorizing and monitoring micro biomes of this large urban city could provide valuable microbial data of specific areas for municipal surveillance.

It should be noted that other researchers are engaged in the tasks of characterizing and monitoring the microbiomes of entire cities, such as the Bay area in San Francisco. The hope is that baselines for different viruses can be detected and developed within an environment so that fluctuations and potential outbreaks can be swiftly detected and dealt with.

posted by Eleanor Wolfram


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