Researchers from Cornell University have provided the first map of New York's subway microbes, identifying more than 1,688 types of bacteria and one station that even supports a 'marine ecosystem'. Although a vast majority of the bacteria are harmless to the 1.7 billion annual travelers, the disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to drugs were found in 27 percent of samples, out of which two samples were found with DNA fragments of anthrax and three with a plasmid associated with bubonic plague.
But there has not been a single reported case of plague in New York since the PathoMap project began in June 2013. Researchers collected 1,457 DNA samples from all 466 open stations on all 24 lines.
The study's senior investigator, Christopher Mason, said, "The research shows the resilience of the human body and that the bacteria is not enough to pose a threat to our health. The presence of these microbes and the lack of reported medical cases is truly a testament to our body's immune system, and our innate ability to continuously adapt to our environment. Perhaps most striking is that 48 percent of the samples matched no known organism, which highlights the vast wealth of unknown species that are ubiquitous in urban areas."
Hurricane Sandy caused havoc across the city in October 2012, and submerged South Ferry Station in Lower Manhattan in ocean water. The study found that even two years later, the majority of bacteria at the station are more commonly associated with fish species, marine environments or very cold Antarctic environments. It was also found that Penn Station, one of New York's busiest transit hubs, has a vast bacterial ecology that shifts by the hour.