NY Subway Has Bubonic Plague

Study maps DNA of New York City storied subway system
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2015 4:30 PM CST
NY Subway Has Bubonic Plague
A rat photographed on the Times Square subway platform, in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Like riding the subway in New York? You're not alone: so do countless bacteria including bubonic plague, anthrax, and E. coli, the Wall Street Journal reports. A new study maps out the subway system's DNA, revealing an underground world packed with microbial diversity. "People don’t look at a subway pole and think, 'It’s teeming with life,'" the study's lead author tells the New York Times. "After this study, they may." But he cautions that most discoveries are quite harmless. Actually, nearly half of DNA found in the 17-month study match no known organism—hardly a surprise, considering that only a few thousand genomes have been mapped so far. And just 0.2% of found microbes come from human DNA. Among other findings:

  • The study shows what New York subway riders are eating, including takeout pizza, chickpeas and kimchi. Weirdly, cucumber DNA "was the third-most prevalent found from more complex organisms," reports the Washington Post.
  • Antibiotic-resistant microbes turned up in 27% of samples, but overall only 12% of found bacteria can be linked to disease.
  • Three stations had "traces of the bacteria that cause bubonic plague," likely caused by rats, says the Journal. But there hasn't been a plague case in New York City for 12 years, the CDC notes.
  • E. coli showed up in 56 stations and bacteria linked to food poisoning in 215 stations.

Again, researchers note that these findings don't mean New Yorkers are at risk. And the city's health department seems to agree, saying it "strongly" disputes the "flawed" study. (More bubonic plague stories.)

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