Researchers reveal which London Underground lines are mouldiest

Jul 25, 2013
Researchers reveal which London Underground lines are mouldiest

People travelling on the London Underground Jubilee Line inhale more fungal spores than those on the Central and Bakerloo Lines, according to new research from our scientists here at the University.

Through a recent study into a common airborne from which we get penicillin, researchers from our Department of Biology & Biochemistry measured levels of on platforms at 12 stations across three lines in the capital.

By comparing spore samples with others collected across different parts of city, they found that viable mould levels in Underground stations were consistently higher than two nearby outdoor locations, and up to four times the levels recorded at a local hospital; incidentally the location of this week's Royal birth.

Fungus levels on the Jubilee Line were fractionally higher than on the Central Line – at just over one fungal spore per minute of normal human breathing. On the Bakerloo line, which opened in 1906, passengers breathe in less fungal spores – at around 0.75 a minute.

The study, published recently in Fungal Ecology, focused on penicillium chrysogenum – the species first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 at St Mary's Hospital, from where samples for this study were also taken. Fleming's discovery led to the breakthrough development of penicillin as an antibiotic, but despite widespread scientific interest, relatively little is known about the species ecology or how it has evolved.

This study notes that a number of factors including local substrates, temperature, time of day, humidity and depth all influence fungi levels in different areas. Interestingly, it also found that whilst the Jubilee Line had high levels of fungal spores, it in fact had the lowest proportion of penicillium spores, despite these being one of the most common fungal species in the outside air. This suggests that other fungi are responsible for the relative increase of fungal spores in the Jubilee Line.

Finally, through the study researchers have identified two new penicillin species. These are formally named Penicillium floreyi and Penicillium chainii, after Howard Florey and Ernst Chain who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with Fleming, for their work on penicillin.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Henk said: "Finding an abundance of fungi in the air of the London Underground is not that surprising because people encounter them nearly everywhere all the time. However, our observation that part of the fungal community differs between the above ground and below ground air and between Underground lines suggests that the physical structure of the Tube is more than a sieve through which airborne fungi flow.

"In some ways, the Underground might be like the U-bend of a sink for the air around the people of London, trapping fungi in the air from outside, but it is also an environment capable of supporting fungal growth in its own right. Uncovering the fungal species in the built environment should ultimately help us manage our building for sustainability, health and biodiversity."

Explore further: A feline fungus joins the new species list

More information:

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fleming's fungus still surprising scientists

Nov 21, 2011

( -- From the moment that a spore of fungus fell onto Alexander Fleming's culture plate in 1928 and killed the bacteria around it, that fungus was destined to become one of the most studied organisms ...

A feline fungus joins the new species list

Jun 18, 2013

( —A new species of fungus that causes life-threatening infections in humans and cats has been discovered by a University of Sydney researcher.

Fungi offers new clues in asthma fight

Feb 19, 2013

Hundreds of tiny fungal particles found in the lungs of asthma sufferers could offer new clues in the development of new treatments, according to a team of Cardiff University scientists.

Recommended for you

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

58 minutes ago

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

Rapid and accurate mRNA detection in plant tissues

2 hours ago

Gene expression is the process whereby the genetic information of DNA is used to manufacture functional products, such as proteins, which have numerous different functions in living organisms. Messenger RNA (mRNA) serves ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

21 hours ago

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Adventurous bacteria

22 hours ago

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Classifying cognitive styles across disciplines

Educators have tried to boost learning by focusing on differences in learning styles. Management consultants tout the impact that different decision-making styles have on productivity. Various fields have ...