Mapping the Microbiomes of Subway Systems

Recently, numerous scientific studies have been conducted on the topic of microbiomes that exist within and on the bodies of humans and other organisms. These are entire ecosystems of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that live and grow on the skin, in the gut, and across other parts of living things, typically working in symbiosis and—rather than presenting a threat—actually improving our bodily functions such as digestion, by adding metabolic functions that we otherwise lack.

What many people do not know is that microbiomes do not only exist inside of people, animals, and plants. Microbiomes exist in nearly all isolated environments with features conducive to the growth of microbial life. One of these is the subway.

Recent studies done by an international group of scientists called MetaSub have revealed some interesting facts about the microbiomes of subways from major cities across the world including New York, Beijing, Rio de Janiero and many more.

To begin with, it should be known that in a typical subway, there are about 10 bacterial cells for every human cell. This is particularly striking considering the fact that a human body contains trillions of cells. Of these subway dwelling bacterial cells, scientists took samples from numerous surfaces including those often touched by humans and those infrequently touched.

Many of the results were surprising. For example, nearly half of the bacterial cells found belonged to no species yet discovered by science, highlighting our continuing need to explore the enormous and complicated world of bacteria.

On the other hand, many scientists working on the project were hopeful that the data collected in this project could be used in the future to help combat disease and improve general health and sanitation in the public.

At CosmosID we are thrilled to be involved in the in MetaSub project in helping identify and characterize the bacteria and other microbes that are in the subway samples.