Researchers find bubonic plague fragments on NY subway

February 6, 2015
A lonely commuter waits to catch the train at a subway station in New York on January 26, 2015

It is universally acknowledged that the New York subway is grubby. What may come as a shock is that it contains DNA fragments linked to anthrax and bubonic plague.

Researchers from Cornell University have provided the first map of the subway's microbes, identifying more than 1,688 types of and one station that even supports a "marine ecosystem."

They say the vast majority of the bacteria is harmless to the 1.7 billion people who travel each year on 600 miles (960 kilometers) of track in passenger service in America's largest city.

But disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to drugs were found in 27 percent of samples.

Two were found with DNA fragments of anthrax and three with a plasmid associated with , albeit at very low levels.

Yet there has not been a single reported case of the plague in New York since the PathoMap project began in June 2013.

The study's senior investigator, Christopher Mason, says 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," he said.

Perhaps most striking is that 48 percent of the samples matched no known organism, which the study said highlighted "the vast wealth of unknown species that are ubiquitous in urban areas."

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused havoc across the city and submerged South Ferry Station in Lower Manhattan in ocean water.

Two years later, the majority of bacteria at the station are "more commonly associated with fish species, marine environments or very cold Antarctic environments," the study found.

It also found that Penn Station, one of New York's busiest transit hubs, has a vast bacterial ecology that shifts by the hour.

New York has the seventh largest subway in the world in terms of annual ridership, behind Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and other cities in the Far East, but ahead of Mexico City, Hong Kong and Paris.

Human DNA was only the fourth most abundant species, behind two insects, the Mediterranean fruit fly and the .

The researchers say they collected 1,457 DNA samples from all 466 open stations on all 24 lines.

Explore further: Researchers produce first map of New York City subway system microbes

Related Stories

Bubonic plague claims 32 lives in Madagascar (Update)

December 20, 2013

Bubonic plague, which wiped out a third of Europe's population in the Middle Ages, has reared its ugly head in the African island state of Madagascar where 32 people have died in a fresh outbreak of the so-called Black Death ...

China lifts quarantine after man dies of plague

July 24, 2014

(AP)—A nine-day quarantine imposed on parts of a northern Chinese city where a man died of bubonic plague has been lifted, China's official news agency reported Thursday.

Recommended for you

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

January 19, 2019

Over the years, scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as causes of the troubling decline of the Pacific Northwest's resident killer whales. Now, they may have found a new and more surprising culprit: ...

Researchers come face to face with huge great white shark

January 18, 2019

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.

Why do Hydra end up with just a single head?

January 18, 2019

Often considered immortal, the freshwater Hydra can regenerate any part of its body, a trait discovered by the Geneva naturalist Abraham Trembley nearly 300 years ago. Any fragment of its body containing a few thousands cells ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Feb 06, 2015
I don't see anything surprising here. You can get the same type of results from just about any public place including hospitals.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2015
The surprise here is that it has a drivers' license and an address in Yonkers.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2015
Question to Water_Prophet
To be clear to everyone observing your evasion first verify u accept terms/definition re vocation as real PC does:-
This is your very obvious pattern.

When asked direct question re your claimed degree U ignore it & instead make irrelevant claims, u CANNOT answer simple direct questions in your claimed degree - Y ?

It appears u are caught out yet AGAIN !

So, as a claimed Physical Chemist, is your particular training commensurate with the definition in link I supplied above ?

Obviously it SHOULD be as the uni definitions r global but, I will give u a chance to exclude an issue u missed in a lecture or failed to pass in or needed a supplementary due to illness at a main exam.

So tell re Physical Chemistry as per link above.

R U or R U not educated in this field re a degree with ALL it implies ?

btw: In Oz "graduate level" is studies towards uni degree qualification.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2015
Elsewhere re the tragedy of Water_Prophet...

Water_Prophet claimed
This means all future increases in atmospheric temperature must have another powerful source. Not CO2!
I wonder what it could be?
I wonder Y someone who claims to be a Physical Chemist (PC) is impotent/clueless as to how to determine quantification of the most appropriate units of Watts per Square meter re CO2 or ANY greenhouse gas ?

As if Water_Prophet completely lied about his claimed degree as a PC ?

Why can't a PC determine energy in Joules by formulating the increase in thermal resistivity of CO2's absorbancy/re-radiation of long wave infra red to Space ?

What seems to be wrong with this Water_Prophet, who makes lots of egotistical claims re his multiple 4 technical degrees yet CANNOT talk like one, articulate fundamentals like one & evades any discussion on issues he cannot find addressed via google ?

Water_Prophet grow up, own up or AT LEAST prove your claimed credentials ?

Caught !
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2015
Hey, MM. what does any of that have to do with the article? Not a damn thing as far as I can see.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2015
24volts observed
Hey, MM. what does any of that have to do with the article? Not a damn thing as far as I can see.
fair enough, trying to get through to the little fetus so he is brought to task, claiming 4 technical degrees & making claims just obfuscates the issue and muddies the waters, pinning him down would be ideal but, unfortunately admins can't or wont do that, hopefully you guys can see what I'm doing and skip over as they are intended for the plebe & slimey Water_Prophet who just cannot respond like anyone I worked with or taught or trained with at uni, so sad...

1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2015
24volts, what Mike sees that you don't, by way of connection, is that he shares that same address in Yonkers. Now do his comments make sense?
1 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2015
Water_Prophet mutters obtuse common drivel
24volts, what Mike sees that you don't, by way of connection, is that he shares that same address in Yonkers. Now do his comments make sense?
Huh ?
I live in Perth, Western Australia.

Instead of obtuse half wit jabs why can't you respond like the scientist you CLAIM to be ?

What is CO2's thermal resistivity addition to atmosphere per ppm in units of watts per sq m ?

You claim to have graduated as a Physical Chemist, they CAN work it out, Y can't you ?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.