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The Power of Two

ATM Dispenses Microbes

Published May 13, 2014 10:51 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Generally, when you roll up to an ATM machine, you are hoping for two things to occur: the first would be would be that you have enough in your account to cover the transaction, and the second thing would be that the machine malfunctions and spits out a boat load of cash into your car window. What you do not want are uninvited guests, such as germs, riding in on your withdrawal.

Normally when you hear the phrase ‘dirty money’, you think of money that have been acquired from the sale of narcotics, prostitution, or other illegal activities. But in an alternative universe, namely microbiology, dirty money means just that. Its cash loaded with an unimaginable amount of germy microbes. 

Just recently a team of New York University scientists sampled bills from a bank in Manhattan and what they found was startling. It seems that the eighty $1 bills contain more than 3,000 different bacteria, some of which are drug-resistant species. (Food for Thought Note: Those dollar bills must have been really heavy to be packing over 3,000 germy passengers.) 

The purpose of the genomics and systems biological study was to analyze the general state of New Yorkers health status by identifying the DNA traces left on paper. Instead they found a lot of non-DNA traces, some of which was identifiable and some which could not be labeled.

It has been said that anything that gets on hands will end up on money. As laboratorians, we have known that hands come into contact with a variety of microbes, including viral diseases. And, since cash travels, the hand-to-money microbes are spread. We can imagine that microbes are getting joy rides nationally and even internationally as a result of our more-than-happy quest to circulate the cash.

I understand that the filthy money topic is not new. In 1905, a public health physician stated that currency should be recycled swiftly by withdrawing soiled bills from circulation as quickly as possible. Currently, ongoing currency microbial researchers encourage the Federal Reserve to removed old monies from circulation in an expedient matter. The central bank does have a testing and a length of circulation time table en force.

Due to the ease in which adverse microbes can be transported across countries, governments are in unison thinking about a universal electronic cashless system. But I will be honest; I do like the look and the sound of crisp crackling bills. Shifting to electronic cash of bytes and bits just does not have the same thrill.

posted by Eleanor Wolfram


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