Meet the microbes sharing your seat on public transportation


Boston’s Red LineRebecca Siegel

❝ The subway is crowded–and not just with people. Sharing your commute are trillions of invisible microbes. They’re on the seats, poles, ticket kiosks; pretty much on anything people hold, lean against, sneeze on, swipe, or bump into. “We’re constantly shedding bugs into our environment,” says Curtis Huttenhower, an associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Huttenhower is the senior author of a study…that reveals the character of the microbial community that shares the Boston transit system…

❝ …Huttenhower and his team weren’t simply out to catalogue nasty microbes and cause a stir. They wanted to get an overall profile of the microbes in the subway environment, and gain a better understanding of the interactions between humans, microbes, and the space we share. “We really set out to understand how a transit environment — where thousands and thousands of people constantly interact — contributes to the harmless transmission of microbes between people. Does that environment serve as a sort of reservoir or exchange for microbial communities?”

❝ The researchers swabbed a variety of locations — seats, hand rails, hanging grips, walls, seats, and touch screens at ticket booths — on three different subway lines and five subway stations in Boston. Using metagenomic sequencing, the team was able to profile the microbes. What they found was a familiar cast of characters…Huttenhower says, These are the bugs we would have on our bodies anyhow.”

They also discovered who was living where. Skin microbes were the most prevalent overall, found on all of the surfaces examined. But oral associated bugs, which are transferred by touching, coughing, or sneezing, were prevalent on face-level surfaces like hand grips and poles. And seats revealed genital-related microbes, which can be transferred through clothing. The team found little variation based on location of the train lines or the demographics they served.

❝ As for those nasty bugs other studies trumpeted, Huttenhower said in a statement, “We were surprised to find that the microbes that we collected on surfaces that people touch — and sometimes sneeze on — had low numbers of worrisome pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes. These environments have drastically lower virulence profiles, in fact, than are observed in a typical human gut.”

It’s been decades since I left the Boston area. Dunno if life has become cleaner or less clean. BITD I found public transport – especially the rail lines – to be comparatively clean. Is that a Boston thing? Are public health standards uniform nationwide?

“Our cause is just” — leader of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe fighting pipeline construction

❝ High on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, Dave Archambault II knelt and touched a stone that bears a handprint worn into it by thousands of his ancestors who have done the same for centuries.

There, the leader of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said a prayer for peace.

❝ Below, Archambault can see Native Americans from across North America gathered at an encampment a half-mile away, joining his tribe’s growing protest against a $3.8 billion four-state oil pipeline that will cross the Missouri River nearby. It’s a project they fear will disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and millions further downstream.

“Our cause is just,” the laconic, soft-spoken 45-year-old said. “What we do today will make a difference for future generations.”

❝ His contemporaries say he’s the right person at the right time to lead the fight, which has led to the arrests of about 30 people, Archambault included, for interfering with construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

❝ Since becoming the leader of about 9,000 people in 2013, Archambault has sought to improve housing, health care, employment, education and other grim realities that his 2.3 million-acre reservation that straddles the North and South Dakota border and reservations nationwide face.

Now, he’s dealing with added pressure of the pipeline, which he has called yet another “historic wrong involving tribal sovereignty and land rights.

RTFA. Decide which part of history deserves your support: short term profits including construction jobs for a couple of years – or long-term civil rights and sovereignty for a Native American nation simply trying to live in peace.

Oklahoma finally orders wastewater wells shut down after earthquake


Click to enlargeDavid Bitton/AP

Steve Gibson, of Pawnee, takes photos of damage

❝ Oklahoma officials have ordered 37 wastewater disposal wells shut down after a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the state on Saturday, equal to the strongest in the state’s history.

Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after the earthquake, which caused damage to buildings around north-central Oklahoma and could be felt as far away as Dallas and Chicago…

❝ The Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered the shutdown of wastewater wells in a radius of about 500 square miles around the epicenter of the earthquake. “We estimate that at any one time, there are about 3,200 active disposal wells,” commission spokesman Matt Skinner said.

❝ Five months ago, US officials warned Oklahoma that the wastewater wells used for natural gas drilling were linked to an increase in earthquakes in the state, parts of which are now as likely to suffer tremors as northern California. There are about 4,200 total wells across the state and about 700 in a 15,000-square-mile “area of interest” in the area that includes the epicenter of Saturday’s temblor, near Pawnee…

❝ An increase in magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes in Oklahoma has been linked to underground disposal of wastewater from oil and natural gas production, and since 2013, the commission has asked wastewater-well owners to reduce disposal volumes in parts of the state where the temblors have been most frequent.

Disaster is about the only way to get the attention of the latest flavor of conservative politicians. Now that seawater is often knee-deep in coastal cities, Republican mayors begin to “recognize” that climate science really does apply to the United States. The same is beginning to happen to Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in states dependent upon fossil fuel barons for a significant chunk of their budget.

19th Century minds are occasionally dragged into reality. Especially when it hurts.