NYC subway cultures drug resistant bacteria, DNA from Anthrax, Plague


Click to enlargeHeatmap of the Pseudomonas genus

The study, published in Cell Systems, demonstrates that it is possible and useful to develop a “pathogen map” — dubbed a “PathoMap” — of a city, with the heavily traveled subway a proxy for New York’s population. It is a baseline assessment, and repeated sampling could be used for long-term, accurate disease surveillance, bioterrorism threat mitigation, and large scale health management for New York, says the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Christopher E. Mason…

The PathoMap findings are generally reassuring, indicating no need to avoid the subway system or use protective gloves, Dr. Mason says. The majority of the 637 known bacterial, viral, fungal and animal species he and his co-authors detected were non-pathogenic and represent normal bacteria present on human skin and human body. Culture experiments revealed that all subway sites tested possess live bacteria.

Strikingly, about half of the sequences of DNA they collected could not be identified — they did not match any organism known to the National Center for Biotechnology Information or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These represent organisms that New Yorkers touch every day, but were uncharacterized and undiscovered until this study. The findings underscore the vast potential for scientific exploration that is still largely untapped and yet right under scientists’ fingertips.

WTF? They’re under everyone’s fingertips.

“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,” Dr. Mason says. “These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria.”

But the researchers also say that 12 percent of the bacteria species they sampled showed some association with disease. For example, live, antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present in 27 percent of the samples they collected. And they detected two samples with DNA fragments of Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and three samples with a plasmid associated with Yersinia pestis (Bubonic plague) — both at very low levels. Notably, the presence of these DNA fragments do not indicate that they are alive, and culture experiments showed no evidence of them being alive.

RTFA to see why the researcher say we shouldn’t worry. Certainly, the diversity of microorganisms is a positive activator for our immune systems.

Interesting how they went about the research – and what this presents as a baseline for future evaluations. And an added plus is the unique – and still closed – station shuttered since Superstorm Sandy. Marine species still alive and stable in what should be an abnormal environment for them.

Thanks, Helen

You think you’re safe – as inspectors falsify subway records

Safety workers at New York City Transit falsified thousands of inspections of the track signals that direct trains in the subway system, deeming the signals safe even though those inspections had never taken place, according to an investigation by the inspector general of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The signals, which keep appropriate distances between trains to prevent accidents, have since been reinspected and found to be safe, transit officials said Friday. The officials said there was no imminent danger to riders.

But the reports, which encompassed signals found on subway lines across the city, caused enough concern that the inspector general, Barry L. Kluger, shared his findings with subway management before finishing his own report.

The falsified reports have been a problem for years and may have stemmed from pressure from managers trying to meet in-house inspection quotas, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation. It is possible the investigation could lead to criminal charges, said the officials, who asked to be anonymous because of the continuing inquiry…

It is not the first time that safety workers in the subway have been found to have falsified such inspections. A nearly identical situation was revealed by the inspector general in 2000…

The inquiry was said to be nearly done, and transit officials said they were working with the inspector general on the findings.

The hilarious bit, of course, is that million$ are being spent to assure safety from terrorist activities when the greatest likelihood of danger apparently comes from sleazy inspections from lower level civil servants and technicians who simply aren’t doing their job.