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

Midterm elections skewed by anonymous money

Traditional anonymous political activist

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies would certainly seem to the casual observer to be a political organization: Karl Rove, a political adviser to President George W. Bush, helped raise money for it; the group is run by a cadre of experienced political hands; it has spent millions of dollars on television commercials attacking Democrats in key Senate races across the country.

Yet the Republican operatives who created the group earlier this year set it up as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, so its primary purpose, by law, is not supposed to be political.

The rule of thumb, in fact, is that more than 50 percent of a 501(c)(4)’s activities cannot be political. But that has not stopped Crossroads and a raft of other nonprofit advocacy groups like it — mostly on the Republican side, so far — from becoming some of the biggest players in this year’s midterm elections, in part because of the anonymity they afford donors, prompting outcries from campaign finance watchdogs…

Neither the Internal Revenue Service, which has jurisdiction over nonprofits, nor the Federal Election Commission, which regulates the financing of federal races, appears likely to examine them closely…

This is arguably more important than ever after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case earlier this year that eased restrictions on corporate spending on campaigns…

I can tell you from personal experience, the money’s flowing,” said Michael E. Toner, a former Republican F.E.C. commissioner, now in private practice at the firm Bryan Cave…

“The Supreme Court has completely lifted restrictions on corporate spending on elections,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a watchdog group. “And 501(c) serves as a haven for these front groups to run electioneering ads and keep their donors completely secret…”

In fact, the I.R.S. is unlikely to know that some of these groups exist until well after the election because they are not required to seek the agency’s approval until they file their first tax forms — more than a year after they begin activity.

“These groups are popping up like mushrooms after a rain right now, and many of them will be out of business by late November,” Marcus Owens said. “Technically, they would have until January 2012 at the earliest to file anything with the I.R.S. It’s a farce.”

RTFA for more sleazy details. The Republicans have the current market cornered – partly because they’re on the outside, partly because the Obama side depends on lots of small donors who enter the hunt for votes more or less on the honesty side of the spectrum. Serious corporate money no longer has to worry about oversight, anyway.

The Republican Supreme Court has engineered that aspect of buying and selling political favors/votes to favor the wealthiest individuals and corporations for the foreseeable future.

Online system lets public seek to identify the missing

A new U.S. database is seeking to identify the remains of thousands of dead people, some of whom have remained mysteries for decades, officials say.

The online system, called NamUs, is operated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Officials hope to attach names to the many John and Jane Does whose remains are housed in morgues and police forensic labs across the country, reported The Washington Post.

The newspaper said the system is open for use by police, medical examiners and coroners, as well as family members.

“Instead of having this fragmented system where people go to coroners, to medical examiners, to law enforcement, we have everything in a central repository,” Kristina Rose, acting director of the National Institute of Justice, told the Post. “People can participate in identifying their loved ones…”

A 2007 federal report indicated that 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains surface each year, though most cases are eventually solved. The estimated total number of unidentified remains varies from 13,500 to 40,000, the Post reported.

There’s always someone out there, missing and presumed – dead or alive. At least this new system might allow for some of those questions to be answered.